Two of the 12 casinos in South Mississippi already take sports bets, and now the race is on to get the others open by Labor Day weekend and the official start of the NFL and Southeastern Conference football.
On Thursday, the Mississippi Gaming Commission met in Jackson and on the agenda was the approvals of SBTech, the company that operated the sportsbook for Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi, and William Hill, which will run sports betting at Hard Rock, Palace and Treasure Bay casinos in Biloxi, Island View in Gulfport and Silver Slipper in Hancock County.
These operators are approved the same way as slot machine manufacturers, said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Gaming Commission. The casinos must get approval of their rules, equipment, operations and staff before they can open their sportsbook.
Beau Rivage Resort & Casino opened on Aug. 1 and IP Casino Resort quickly followed on Aug. 3. And three sportsbooks opened in Tunica.
Sports betting begins at Hard Rock Casino Biloxi, Hollywood Casino Gulf Coast and Boomtown Casino Biloxi on Friday, Aug. 17.
“That gives us two weeks before football season starts in earnest,” said Hard Rock general manager Todd Raziano.
Late fall typically is slow for Coast casinos, he said, but not this year. “This region is just so crazy about football,” he said. “We’re so passionate about our teams.”
Harrah’s Gulf Coast will open its sportsbook at about 11:30 a.m. on Monday, Aug. 20 and Palace Casino will open Contact Sports Book Monday at noon.
Duncan McKenzie, general manager of IP Casino, said Mississippi is the only state in the South to operate legalized sports betting. “We’re first and we’re going to be first for a while,” he said.
“Our construction’s wrapping up over the weekend,” said Scott King, vice president of marketing at Golden Nugget, and if all goes well the target is to open next weekend. Michael Patrick’s sports bar was transformed into the sportsbook, and King promises more than a betting counter.
“We’re still shooting for the first of September — or maybe a little bit earlier,” said John Ferrucci, general manager of Silver Slipper Casino.
New Jersey reported an amazing $40 million in sports wagers in July, said Godfrey. He checked with the first two Coast casinos with sportsbooks and even before football season starts, “They’re not doing bad,” he said.
“I think the gauge will be how they’re doing in September, October, when we get into college and professional football,” he said.