Baseball scores roll on a ticker inside the Island View Casino Resort in
Gulfport where they will eventually put in one of their sports books. John
The first day casinos in Mississippi legally can offer sports betting is July 22,
but that likely won’t happen.
Mississippi Gaming Commission approved the sports regulations on June 21.
A 30-day waiting period follows and the state set the opening one day after
that. However, a Sunday opening could be seen as a negative in a Bible belt
state like Mississippi.
The sports betting operation at each casino must be approved by the Gaming
Commission staff, and no Coast casino has yet provided an opening date but
operators are indicating it will be soon.
The general managers say they are focused on being ready by the start of
football season. Opening day for the Southeast Conference college football is
Sept. 1. The NFL regular season kicks off Sept. 6, when the Atlanta Falcons
take on the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles, and preseason NFL
games start Aug. 2.
Football is by far the most popular sport to wager on in the United States,
according to Statista.com, which reports that 77 percent of all those who bet
on sports bet on football.
“Let’s keep our eyes wide open and focus on doing it right and providing
quality product,” said Palace Casino general manager Keith Crosby, “and
allow it to mature into what it will become.” Rolling out sports betting
carefully and correctly will set Mississippi up for possible expansion in the
future, he said.
The first Coast casinos to submit paperwork to conduct sports betting in
Mississippi were the Palace Casino, along with the parent companies of Beau
Rivage (MGM Resorts International), Harrah’s Gulf Coast (Caesars
Entertainment), all in Biloxi, plus Boomtown Biloxi and Hollywood Casino
(Penn National) in Bay St. Louis.
Now, said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Gaming Commission,
“We’re getting a number of applications.”
Representatives of all 12 casinos in South Mississippi told the Sun Herald
they intend to offer sports betting and several have begun renovating space
on the casino floor for their sports book.
Palace Casino plans to use William Hill sports betting company, the largest in
the country, to run its sports book, Crosby said.
Penn National uses a third-party vendor in Nevada, said Jeff Morris, vice
president of public affairs at Penn National, and he anticipates doing the
same in Mississippi.
William Hill US has applied for a license to operate in Mississippi and that
application could be on the Aug. 16 Gaming Commission agenda, Godfrey
Sports betting will give Mississippi an edge in the Southeast, casino owners
Island View Casino Resort owners Rick Carter and Terry Green talk about the
impact sports betting will have on the Mississippi casino market. The state
gaming commission approved rules that will allow sports betting in casinos
beginning in July 2018.
Ahead of the game
Delaware and New Jersey were the first two states to open sports book after
the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports betting on May 14.
Mississippi is poised to be next.
“We always knew there was a big appetite for legal sports betting during the
years of litigation, and now it is being proven,” said Joe Asher, chief executive
officer for William Hill US, after Delaware and New Jersey reported strong
starts to sports betting.
“We are proud to be creating new jobs in New Jersey and bringing excitement
to our customers,” said Asher, who attended the Southern Gaming Summit at
the Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in May. “We can’t wait until football
Mississippi is the only state in the southeast and the SEC college football
conference that will have sports betting, setting up the expectation that fans
of the New Orleans Saints, LSU, Alabama, Auburn and other college teams
from surrounding states will venture to Mississippi to bet and watch the
While having sports betting in Penn National’s five Mississippi casinos is a
nice amenity to offer customers, Morris said, “It’s a really great opportunity
for Mississippi as a whole.”
Rob Portwood was born and raised in Gulfport and moved to Las Vegas in the
1990s to work in race and sports betting. More than 20 years later, he was
just hired to oversee the sports book at Harrah’s Gulf Coast in Biloxi.
“I was kind of hoping this day would come,” he said. The lift of the ban on
sports betting means he can return home and do what he enjoys, he said. He’s
gotten texts and calls from friends across the South, he said, as the
excitement grows for the start of wagering in Mississippi.
With a huge spike in demand for sports betting equipment and skilled staff,
“It’s a great time to be in the industry,” he said.
The staff at Harrah’s Gulf Coast will be fully trained in sports betting,
Portwood said, and he anticipates a learning curve for the public to become
familiar with the language and skill of sports betting.
Like the Coast casinos, the Gaming Commission is sending staff to Las Vegas
to get a crash course on sports betting.
“Everyone is trying to learn as much as they can as fast as they can,” Godfrey
“The advent of sports betting in Mississippi is exciting, and it is providing a
new level of interest and energy for the Mississippi gaming industry,” said
Tommy Shepherd, a casino attorney for Jones Walker and a frequent blogger
on Mississippi’s casino industry.
The average fantasy sports player is 32, a college graduate and makes more
than $75,000 a year, according to the American Gaming Association. Coast
casinos are preparing facilities that will give sports betters of all ages more
than a place to put down a wager.
The area around Contact Sports Bar at Palace Casino is curtained off, Crosby
said, as work begins to transform the space into an integrated sports book
and bar experience with dozens of sports and odds televisions and a smokefree
bar and restaurant.
Other casinos are completing temporary facilities while making plans for
more elaborate sports book lounges, depending on just how big sports betting
is when it opens in South Mississippi.