Casino Gambling

7 ways sports betting is changing Mississippi Coast casinos, one year after legalization

Sports betting launches in Biloxi

The first legal sports bets were made on Wednesday, August 1, 2018, at the Beau Rivage Casino & Resort. Notable guests were on hand to place the first bets.
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The first legal sports bets were made on Wednesday, August 1, 2018, at the Beau Rivage Casino & Resort. Notable guests were on hand to place the first bets.

Mississippi is the only state in the Southeastern Conference where fans legally can bet on football or basketball, and that’s made wagering at a Coast casino different than in Vegas or New Jersey.

It’s been a full year since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the ban on sports betting and 9 months since the first legal bet was placed in Biloxi, giving Mississippi a monopoly on sports betting in the South.

The surprise for local casino operators was just how much of a draw sports betting would be, the general managers said during the Southern Gaming Summit earlier this month at the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino. The Beau Rivage sportsbook already is being redesigned and other casino sports books are getting an upgrade.

Sports betting adds to the experience for people flying or driving to Biloxi, said Jonathan Jones, manager of Harrah’s Gulf Coast Casino. What typically was a slower time of the year for casinos before and after Christmas now is a booming football and basketball season.

He said 55 percent of those who bet on sports come from a distance, that most are younger and male, that a high percentage also play slots and table games while at the casino and 70 percent of those who came in and used their loyalty card hadn’t been to the casino in a year.

Here are 7 ways sports betting has changed Coast casinos and what’s ahead:

1. Betting on college sports bigger in Mississippi than other states.

“I vastly underestimated the love of college sports down here,” said Kathryn Lopez, sport book manager at Golden Nugget Biloxi. She moved to Biloxi from Las Vegas, where NFL and NBA get the most bets.

People in Nevada were shocked at the level of people betting in Biloxi on college games, said Chett Harrison, general manager of Golden Nugget Biloxi.

“I would rate that our top draw,” said Will Hall, director of the sports book at the Beau Rivage. Mississippi is right in the middle of the SEC school action, he said, and when the games are on, there’s a lot lot of electricity in the room. “College football is 11 in the morning to 10 o’clock at night,” he said.

2. Bet and run a Coast phenomenon

While some fans stay around to watch the game, others are in and out of a casino faster than Drew Brees can hit his favorite receiver for a touchdown. At Treasure Bay Casino, “We’re right inside the front door,” said Susan Varnes, general manager. It’s a challenge for the valet, she said, because people are running in, placing their bet and running back out in just a few minutes.

Duncan McKenzie, general manager at IP Casino, said he’s seeing some of the same thing since the sports book is just inside the parking garage.

3. No learning curve

Biloxi has a long history of bookies and a shorter history of participation in fantasy sports. “People in this area knew how to bet,” Harrison said. There was no learning curve for sports betting like there was on slots and table games when first casinos opened, he said.

4. Mississippi is losing out

The state became one of the first to offer legal sports betting, but it’s legal only inside a casino’s building.

In New Jersey, 79 percent of all sports bets in January were placed online.

The phenomenon in New York is the number of people walking half way across the bridge until they step inside New Jersey.

“Why? Because you can’t do any sports betting on mobile in New York.,” said Dominic Atkinson, North America sports betting sales director for Sportradar. His company collects sports data from the leagues and the stadiums provides odds and results for the game and live streaming.

5. In-game betting is huge

More people bet during the game than before the game in Europe, Atkinson said. With in-game betting, fans can wager on what the score will be at the half in a football game or who will score next.

“So in tennis you’ll be betting on who’s going to win the next point, or in soccer who’s going to make the next goal,” he said.

At Golden Nugget, fans place in-game bets on the kiosks, said Lopez. But placing these quick bets works better with an app and a phone.

U.S. sports will still be 90 percent of revenues in the country, Atkinson said, but more Americans are playing, watching and betting on European soccer. The margins for professional football and basketball are only about 5 percent, he said, but if casinos can move the needle and get bets on other sports where margins are higher, “Then why wouldn’t you offer in-play betting?” he asks.

If states don’t allow mobile betting and casinos aren’t offering gamblers the in-game betting they want, “It’s just too easy to bet off shore,” he said.

6. Cash could change

Casinos are one of the last cash-based businesses, said Sara Slane, senior vice president of public affairs at the American Gaming Association. She said people start withdrawing cash days before their Las Vegas vacation because they can’t use their credit card to bet there.

The AGA, which played a major part in getting sports betting in front of the Supreme Court, now will lead the industry through the process of giving casino operators the option of allowing other forms of payment besides cash, and giving customers a choice of how they want to pay and possibly setting their own spending limits.

“It’s crazy to think that we are one of last industries to have ability to offer digital payments,” she said.

7. Technology is the future of casinos.

So is fun, so bring your phone when you come to the future casino, advises Gavin Isaacs, chairman of SBTech and the keynote speaker for the Southern Gaming Summit.

“The casino of the future isn’t going to look much different,” he said. But cellphones will personalize every visit, he said, providing offers and experiences to customers.

“There’s so many great things we can do. We just have to be allowed to do it,” he said.

He doesn’t know what will be the next technology that will change the casino floor., he said, but it seems the next step in online wagering. “We’ll see.”

Mary Perez is the business and casino reporter for the Sun Herald and also writes about Biloxi, jobs and the new restaurants and development coming to the Coast. She is a fourth-generation journalist.

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