The first legal sports bets in Mississippi were placed simultaneously in Biloxi and Tunica at noon Wednesday.
Wagers were made at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi and the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica to make Mississippi the fourth state to allow sports betting.
It came 26 years — to the day — after Isle of Capri in Biloxi became the first legal casino in the state on Aug. 1, 1992.
“Today we’re going to make a little history of our own,” said Beau Rivage Manager Bill Boasberg before seven bets were placed.
Parent company MGM Resorts International moved quickly to get ready for sports betting after the Supreme Court struck down the federal ban in mid-May.
The seven-window sports book mimics the architecture of the Beau Rivage Casino, making it look like it’s always been there.
What was the Coast nightclub, and until Saturday night a piano bar, was transformed into the Sports Book & Bar in time for Wednesday’s opening. With about 18 television screens, oversized theater seating and a bar that wraps around most of the room, it’s ready for the start of football season.
Are you ready for football?
“It’s going to be a party in here,” said Willis McGahee, former Miami Hurricanes running back, who was among those making the first seven bets the Beau Rivage. Magahee said “It was a blessing,” as a former player to be invited to the Beau Rivage to become part of history. He doesn’t forsee problems with athletes manipulating games. “At the end of the day you should be accountable for your actions,” he said.
Also placing first bets were Danny Sheridan, sports analyst for USA Today network; Robert Royal, former LSU and NFL tight end; state Rep. Richard Bennett of Long Beach, former chairman of the House Gaming Committee; current chairman Rep. Casey Eure of Biloxi; Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association; and Bobby Mahoney, owner of Mary Mahoney’s Old French House restaurant in Biloxi.
Boom for Biloxi
Mahoney recalled how in 1965 people bet openly on the horses at the 406 Club in downtown Biloxi and estimates there are still 10 or 12 bookies operating in Biloxi and about 20 across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. He said legal sports betting at the casinos might hurt the bookies a bit, but will be a boost for other businesses on the Coast.
Sports betting is expected to draw fans from several states away. “Mississippi welcomes you,” Bennett said.
No hotel rooms are available for this weekend on the Beau Rivage reservation site and rooms for Sept. 1, which is at the start of SEC football games, are listed for about $400.
“For the Southeast region, we’re it,” said Mississippi Gaming Commissioner Jerry Griffith, who said he expects new customers at the casinos. “It’s new. It’s exciting. It’s energizing,” He said. “This is big time right here.”
More on the way
Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said more casinos will open their sports book “in the near future.”
Boyd Gaming said IP Casino in Biloxi will open in early August along with Sam’s Town in Tunica. Caesars Entertainment announced that Harrah’s Gulf Coast Casino in Biloxi and Horseshoe Tunica will open in mid-August through a collaboration with Scientific Games.
Some of the casinos will have to wait until after the Aug. 16 meeting of the Gaming Commission if they are partnering with William Hill or one of the other sports book operators. Godfrey said it’s up to the three commission members, who he said have been very pro-business concerning sports betting, whether to approve each operator.
Want to bet?
Major League Baseball is about the only live action bets until football season begins, said Will Hall, the new director of the Beau Rivage’s sports book.
With MGM Park right across the street, it seems a natural that people would bet on the Biloxi Shuckers and then go to the stadium and watch the game.
“We hope to be able to do this one day,” Hall said, but there are procedures that must be met before bets can be placed on the Minor League team.
His staff is fully trained and prepared to help those who don’t know about sports betting, he said.
“It’s really simple because each team is identified by a number,” he said. Most people Wednesday were making future bets, and he expects the most popular wagers will be on who will win the SEC championship and whether the Saints will win the NFC, which had 15-2 odds.
“It’s nice to be betting legal now,” said Mike Sanks of D’Iberville, who was among those who came to the Beau Rivage to place an opening day bet. Now instead of asking whether the Saints won their game, he said people will be asking if the team covered the point spread.
This is a new day and there’s a new language in Biloxi.