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Mississippi coast casinos fast track sports betting in light of U.S. Supreme Court ruling

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Mississippi coast casinos fast track sports betting in light of U.S. Supreme Court ruling

Two big events will mark this summer's calendar at the Island View Casino in Gulfport.

The casino plans to open its water-side, $75 million expansion in late June, essentially doubling down on the south Mississippi gambling business. And it hopes to have a nascent sports book up and running not long after that.

Like other casinos across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Island View plans to have all the mechanics in place to greet sports gamblers by the time football season starts - or perhaps even sooner.

In the wake of Monday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that overturned the ban on sports gambling outside Nevada and a few other places, the Coast's casino operators said they've kicked their planning into high gear to meet what they think will be great demand from folks wishing to legally bet on sports for the first time in Mississippi.

"Oh, I would say all 28 casinos in our state are raring to go now," said Michael Bruffey, vice president and general counsel for Island View Casino Resort. "It's just very exciting."

"It's going to bring a lot of people to the Coast,'' added Chett Harrison, general manager of the Golden Nugget in Biloxi.

If regular traffic to the area's casinos is an indicator, it's a safe bet that a number of those sports bettors will be coming from the North Shore and rest of New Orleans area.

That's in part because Louisiana still has a prohibition on sports gambling. Efforts  to legalize it have stalled in the Legislature this spring. The Associated Press reported Monday that Gov. John Bel Edwards said he had been asked to include sports betting in the upcoming special session but was not inclined at this point to add it.

Louisiana Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Kenner, said Tuesday that Louisiana casinos will lose business, and the state will lose gambling revenue, to Mississippi and other states that jump into the sports betting game.

"Everybody else in the country is excited,'' said Martiny, who has unsuccessfully pushed sports betting legislation this session. "But Louisiana's not going to participate - which is joke.''

Allen Godfrey, director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, told The Clarion Ledger in Jackson on Monday that the commission would likely have regulations and approvals finalized so sports betting could begin in casinos in 45-60 days, well before the start of the football season. The casinos would each have to have their plans approved by the commission.

While estimates vary, there's no doubt that stakes in sports betting game are big. The American Gaming Association, a gambling-industry trade group, says at least $150 billion annually is illegally wagered on sporting events in the U.S.

Mississippi gambling revenue in 2017 was around $2 billion, slightly down from the prior year, gaming commission data shows.

Harrison called the Coast market "stable," but across the Coast casino operators are looking for sports betting to give the now-26-year-old casino industry a shot in the arm.

Sports books don't operate on "huge margins," Bruffey said, but do attract additional people to the casinos.

"They bring a lot of energy to the facility," Harrison said.

Penn National Gaming, which owns the Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis, issued a statement Tuesday, saying they were "pleased" with the Supreme Court's ruling.

"Sports betting could be another amenity at our properties and help generate additional visitation, as well as drive incremental state tax revenue," said Jeff Morris, the company's vice president of public affairs and governmental relations.

Mississippi's Legislature legalized sports betting in the state's casinos last year during debate over laws regulating fantasy sports, the Clarion Ledger reported. Mississippi's law confines sports gambling to casinos.

That Mississippi would be able to quickly gear up for sports betting in the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling is hardly a surprise. The specter of legalized sports gambling in the state has hung over the casino industry in recent months as the court's decision was awaited.

Casino operators began putting together tentative plans for jumping into the sports betting game even before the court handed down its ruling.

"Absolutely," Harrison said. "We've been working on it for a couple of months."

The Supreme Court's ruling came in a case, Murphy v. NCAA, in which the state of New Jersey was challenging the 26-year-old ban on legalized sports betting outside of Nevada and a few other states. Besides Mississippi and, of course, New Jersey, other states expected to quickly jump into the legalized sports gambling business include Pennsylvania, West Virginia, New York and Delaware, according to various media reports.

In a statement, MGM Resorts International, which owns casinos in multiple states, including the Beau Rivage in Biloxi, applauded the court's ruling.

"MGM Resorts International applauds the court's decision to allow states the opportunity to protect consumers and benefit the public by regulating and taxing sports betting," MGM said. "We look forward to working with legislators and policy makers to achieve a regulatory outcome that benefits states and consumers alike while ensuring the integrity of sports."

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