Hot topics at Southern Gaming Summit: Fantasy sports and diversity

BILOXI — Internet gambling, such a hot topic the past few years, barely got a mention Wednesday as the Southern Gaming Summit opened. The buzz this year was over fantasy sports and HB 1523.

The Gaming Summit brings together casino operators, regulators, suppliers and analysts at the Coast Convention Center in Biloxi. They network, review the state of the industry and stay at local casinos.

Anthony Sanfilippo, chief executive officer of Pinnacle Entertainment, opened the Gaming Summit by telling the casino executives to lighten up.

“We’re really in the business of creating magical and memorable moments,” he said.

Some of those memorable moments came during the Charity Slot Tournament, at which general managers of casinos across the state got competitive in hopes of winning the jackpot for their charities. After several rounds, Paul Avery, general manager of Lady Luck Casino in Vicksburg, came out the winner and donated the money to Good Shepherd.

“We want to really showcase the Coast and let them know we’re not dormant,” said Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, the co-presenter of the show with BNP Media Gaming. Although casinos in Tunica continue to struggle due to competition, he said South Mississippi has a lively economy.

Also lively was the discussion of HB 1523, the “Religious Liberty Accommodations Act,” which one panelist called on the Mississippi Legislature to repeal immediately. The law has caused performers to cancel their shows in Mississippi in protest and prompted some states and organizations to ban travel to Mississippi.

“That’s just an issue we are working through, like a lot of other industries,” said Gregory, who posted a letter on the MGHA website on behalf of the state’s 28 casinos to encourage people to continue visiting Mississippi. “We believe it is important to go on record to clearly state that this law conflicts with many of the diversity programs our members have developed and clearly utilize within their individual businesses.”

State Sen. Sean Tindell spoke about legislation that legalizes fantasy sports betting in the state for the next year to 18 months while a committee studies the issues.

“I personally have never played daily fantasy sports,” he said, but he believes regulation is necessary to protect those consumers who do — to make sure the money is there to cover the bets.

“The world’s changing and the internet is going to bring more change in the next 20 years,” he said. Mississippi needs to be in the forefront, he said, but also must have policies in place so online business fall under the same tax structure as the Mississippi companies with which they will compete.

Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, the head of the House Gaming Committee, said he and Tindell are among those who will serve on a committee to study fantasy sports betting that would be allowed only in a licensed casino.

“I think it’s a way to generate foot traffic at our casinos,” Bennett said. “I don’t know if there’s an appetite with leadership in Jackson at this time.”

The Gaming Summit’s Thursday lineup offers an Executive Roundtable at 10:15 a.m., and the Regional Chef’s Cooking Demonstration and Tasting at 1 p.m. will close the show.

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