Sports betting heating up at Mississippi’s casinos

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John Fitzhugh / The Sun Herald via AP

Marvin Werkley, of Mobile, Ala., looks over the wager sheets on  Aug. 3, 2018, at the IP Casino Resort & Spa in Biloxi, before making a bet. Sports betting is also underway at the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, Sam’s Town and the Horseshoe Casino in Tunica.

Three months after the U.S. Supreme Court legalized sports betting and little more than two weeks before the SEC football season opens, you can place sports bets at five Mississippi casinos.

Several more Mississippi casinos are busily preparing sports betting operations and expect to offer sports wagering before the beginning of the college and professional football seasons.

The Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi and Gold Strike Casino in Tunica, two MGM Resorts International properties were the first Mississippi casinos to offer sports game on August 1, the 26th anniversary of legal casino gambling in the state. The IP Casino Resort in Biloxi and Sam’s Town followed two days later. The Horseshoe Casino in Tunica began booking sports bets Monday.

Several more casinos are expected to be approved for sports betting at the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s regularly scheduled meeting Thursday in Jackson.

David Tsai, president and chief operating officer of Gold Strike in Tunica, said the launch of sports betting has been “smooth with no issues.”

“The handle (amount of money bet) has been lower than we expect long-term,” Tsai said. “…The better gauge for long-term volumes will be once football season kicks off in September. That said, our handle and betting volumes already exceed that in many Vegas casinos. We are seeing hundreds of guests coming on property to place sports wagers in our new sports book.”

The same seems true at the Beau Rivage, where a recent visit by this reporter found seven open betting windows where you could place bets on everything from Major League baseball, to professional golf, and even NASCAR. You also can place bets on the first weekend of college and NFL football – or on how many games a certain football team will win this coming season.

“We’ve had a steady flow of people even though we opened the sports book at a slow time of the sports season,” said Brandon Dardeau, Beau Rivage vice president of marketing. “We’re really happy with the way we’ve started off.”

AP 2015 file photo by John Locher

Odds are displayed on a screen at a sports book at CG Technology in Las Vegas. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling allows casino betting on sports in Mississippi and other states.

Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said no figures on amounts of money wagered – or sports betting revenue – will be available until the end of August. Sports betting, by itself, is not expected to be a huge revenue producer for Mississippi casinos. In Nevada, sports betting accounts for about 2.5 percent of overall casino gambling revenues.

“It won’t be anything like the revenue from slot machines or table games,” Dardeau said. “It will be a very small percentage. In our view, it’s more like another amenity to bring people to the casinos. It’s something else we can offer as part of the total experience. It’s more about driving traffic.”

Casino operators hope the lure of sports betting will bolster declining gambling revenues across the state, particularly in the river casinos.

Statewide, casino revenue fell more than $40 million in 2017 when casinos earned $2.08 billion. Revenue was slightly up for Gulf Coast casinos, but was down about five percent at the river casinos. Mississippi levies a 12 percent tax on gross casino gaming revenue, of which 8 percent goes to the state and 4 percent to local governments.

Mississippi’s Native American casinos, not regulated by the state, expect to offer casino sports betting before Labor Day although no start date has been set. At Golden Moon Hotel and Casino in Choctaw, near Philadelphia, final preparations are being made at Sportsbook at Timeout Lounge. Sports booking also will be available at Bok Homa Casino, near Laurel.

Currently, sports bets can only be made at betting windows in a designated area within the casino. That will change in the near future. Casinos currently are working on mobile apps that will allow customers, on their own mobile devices, to place a bet anywhere on a casino property, including their rooms, restaurants, lounges and at gaming tables and machines. No mobile or on-line betting can take place off the grounds of a casino.

Sports betting remains illegal in bordering states of Alabama, Louisiana, Arkansas and Tennessee. Mississippi casinos plan to market heavily in those states.

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What follows are a few common questions – and answers – about Mississippi casinos and sports betting:

Q: Who can bet?

A: The legal age to bet in a Mississippi casino is 21.

Q: Now that gambling is legal in Mississippi, can I legally make a bet with my bookie?

A. No. What the Supreme Court decision did in May was invalidate the federal law prohibiting state-sponsored gambling. Only casino sports betting is sponsored and regulated by the state of Mississippi. All other sports betting is still illegal.

Q: Will sports betting provide a windfall in tax revenue for Mississippi?

A. Not really. In Nevada for instance, sports betting made up only about two percent of all casino revenue for the state in 2017. Meanwhile, slot machines racked up about 63 percent of overall casino profits and table games about 33 percent. In Mississippi, casino revenue is taxed at a 12 percent rate with eight percent going to the state and four percent to local government.

The state will have a nice payday, but not enough to fix all the roads and bridges.

Q. What can I bet on?

A. Just about anything played with a ball and some sports, such as auto racing, that are not. In college football, you bet on the first week’s games, and also on how many games you think a team will win and on who will win the national championship.

Q. What is the casino’s edge in sports betting?

A. Roughly the same as a bookie’s: 10 percent. That’s called the vigorish or vig. If you are betting the Alabama-Auburn game and bet on Alabama to win, you lay $110 to win $100. You go to the betting window place your bet, fork over the $110 and you receive a ticket. If Alabama covers the bet, you take your ticket back to the window and receive $210. If Auburn covers, you are out the $110.

Ideally, the casino would prefer to have the same amount of money bet on both teams. That way, the casino can’t lose.