For the first time ever in Mississippi, sports fans who want to wager a few dollars on their favorite professional or college team winning a game, winning a championship, or even scoring first will now be legally able to do that in DeSoto County’s backyard.
The Tunica casino industry, which has softened in recent years while reeling from fewer people visiting, fewer dollars being wagered and the area being hit hard by floods and the recovery from that, hopes the start of legalized sports betting will bring back some of the interest in its properties.
Gold Strike Casino Wednesday joined fellow MGM property Beau Rivage in Biloxi as the first casinos in Mississippi to offer sports wagering to its customers.
A ribbon cutting event and the first bets placed by four dignitaries opened the Sports Book area of the Gold Strike Casino.
“I think it’s going to be positive,” said Nolen Cannon, a former Mississippi Gaming Commission chairman, lifelong Tunica resident and farmer. Cannon was one of the group that placed the first bets at Gold Strike, picking alma mater Mississippi State to win the SEC football championship.
“I was an advocate of this, being on the Gaming Commission,” Cannon added. “People can be comfortable knowing that this is going to be a regulated industry.”
With the opening of the Sports Book, which has temporarily been set up near the main casino lobby while a permanent location is built, fans can now be able to place bets on nearly everything you can bet on in Las Vegas.
Mississippi becomes the first state in the Southeast to take advantage of the rule, leaving other Southeast states still working on taking advantage of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling making it possible. The state Legislature had already enacted a law to allow for legalized sports betting ahead of the Supreme Court ruling, dependent on that ruling coming down from the court.
Cannon said that gives the state an advantage with the early beginnings of sports wagering.
“We have a reason for people to come here to do something they can’t do anywhere else,” Cannon said.
The other first bets at Gold Strike Wednesday came from state Rep. Cedric Burnett (D-Tunica), the House Gaming Committee Vice Chairman, state Sen. Lydia Graves Chassaniol (R-Winona), who leads the Senate Tourism Committee, and former NFL football player Stanley Morgan, who lives in Memphis and was a four-time Pro Bowl selection, playing 13 of his 15 seasons with the New England Patriots.
David Tsai is the President/Chief Operating Officer for Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica and comes from a casino background at Monte Carlo in Las Vegas.
“You can make all of the same types of bets you can make in Vegas,” Tsai said. “You can make a lot of straight bets, bet on who’s going to win, a point spread, the money line, over-under, total number of points, futures, parlays, you can make them all here.”
Tsai cautioned horse and dog race wagering is not available initially but Gold Strike is working to make that happen in the future. Another item not available is betting on non-game-related items, like who is going to win the Heisman Trophy.
“Those, we need to get some special approval, so we’ll still plan on offering those, but we need to go through a few extra steps,” Tsai said. “It may take a few extra days to do so. We are working to add horse racing down the line.”
As far as the economic benefits from sports wagering to Tunica, Webster Franklin, President and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau said it was too soon to tell what the impacts would be.
"We are hopeful that this new amenity will bring new visitors to the area who either have not been here in a while or who might not have otherwise come until sports betting," Franklin wrote the DeSoto Times-Tribune recently. "As for the economic benefits, the associated tax revenue received from sports betting alone will not be a lot but we are hopeful that with new visitors we will see a rise in incremental gaming spent, hotel stays and restaurant expenditures."
Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.