Natchez casino: Sports betting coming soon to Southwest Mississippi

Published 2:00 pm Tuesday, May 15, 2018

NATCHEZ — As soon as the rules are set, Natchez’s only casino will be ready to add sports betting to gaming opportunities in the Miss-Lou.

Magnolia Bluffs Casino President Kevin Preston said he is excited about Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down a federal law barring gambling on sports in most states.

Preston said Magnolia Bluffs Casino will offer sports betting as soon as the Mississippi Gaming Commission approves the rules and regulations.

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“Adding sports betting will be a game changer within the State of Mississippi.” Preston said. “This will open the doors to another type of gaming client for casinos.”

Preston said he and other casino operators in the state have been closely following the sports betting issue and have been waiting on a decision.

Mississippi was one of the five states that officially joined New Jersey’s effort to have the case heard by the Supreme Court.

Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said the casino regulator has already been working on rules governing sports betting at the state’s 28 casinos, and they are almost complete.

“It’s technically just another game that’s being allowed to be played in a licensed casino,” Godfrey told The Associated Press.

Although most lawmakers said they didn’t realize it at the time, Mississippi changed its law in 2017 to allow sports betting as part of a bill legalizing and regulating fantasy sports.

Godfrey said the rules would not come before the gaming commission at its regularly scheduled meeting this Thursday but said they will likely be considered in June at the latest. Once the commission sends the rules out for public comment, it has to wait 25 days before voting to finalize them, and then another 30 days before they take effect.

A June vote means casinos could renovate areas to serve as sports books before college football season begins in late August. The first regular season NFL game is Sept. 6.

“A lot has to happen over the next 90 days before football season begins,” said Michael Bruffey, Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association deputy director.

Mississippi’s casinos, which boomed in the 1990s, have struggled with competition as gambling has become more common nationwide. Sports betting could give its casinos a competitive edge, at least for now. Bruffey said sports betting itself is unlikely to contribute a lot of revenue, but casinos hope it will attract customers who will spend money on hotel rooms, restaurants and other gambling.

“The sports betting itself is not a huge revenue generator. The margins are very small,” Bruffey said. “However, it is an attraction.”

New Jersey pursued the legal challenge to allow sports betting along with existing sports books in Nevada. Other states likely to join those two and Mississippi include Delaware, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. However, a bill to legalize sports betting in Louisiana is dead for now.

Unlike in some other states, Mississippi’s betting would be confined to casinos and not be allowed remotely. Godfrey said Mississippi’s regulations are modeled on Nevada’s and he is confident they will be effective.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.