Sports betting takes off in Mississippi


Chancery Court Judge Jim Davidson, left, chats with Exchange Club speaker Neal Atkinson after Thursday's luncheon at Lion Hills Center. Atkinson, director of table games at Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia, informed his audience about legalized sports betting at Mississippi casinos, which began in August.

Chancery Court Judge Jim Davidson, left, chats with Exchange Club speaker Neal Atkinson after Thursday's luncheon at Lion Hills Center. Atkinson, director of table games at Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia, informed his audience about legalized sports betting at Mississippi casinos, which began in August. Photo by: Slim Smith/Dispatch Staff


Slim Smith



Legal sports betting has been in Mississippi for just a month and at Pearl River Resort for only a week. 


But in another sense the story of sports gambling in the state goes back 25 years, Neal Atkinson told his audience at Thursday's Columbus Exchange Club meeting at Lion Hills Center. 


As director of table games at the Philadelphia-based casino/resort, Atkinson is in charge of the casino's sportsbook at the Timeout Lounge. 


"Sports betting didn't happen overnight," Atkinson told his audience. "It's something that's truly been years in the making." 


In 1992, Congress passed a law that prohibited states from legalizing sports betting. The law exempted Nevada, where sports betting was grandfathered in. New Jersey challenged the law in 1999 and a lengthy challenge through the courts ensued. 


In 2017, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law that said sports betting would become legal in Mississippi if the national law was overturned. 


That day came in May, when the US Supreme Court struck down the law. 


In August, casinos in Mississippi began taking sports bets with almost $10 million in sports wagers placed in the first month. 


At Pearl River Resort, sports betting began over the Labor Day weekend. 


"Based on what we saw from our grand opening, it's going to be bigger than even we imagined," Atkinson said. 


While Mississippi was the first state to take advantage of the Supreme Court ruling, others will surely follow, Atkinson said. 


"It's going to really explode," Atkinson said. "By 2023, 32 states are expected to have legalized sports betting and there are already some pretty good projections on what that will mean. Last year, there was $535 million in sports wages, all in Nevada. This year, it's up to $840 million in just four states. It will jump to $2.57 billion in 2019. By 2023, it will be at 6.3 billion." 


Despite those numbers, sports gambling is not a big profit-center for casinos, Atkinson said. 


"The margin is about 5 percent, which is low by gaming standards," Atkinson said. "For casinos, especially resort casinos like ours, it's more of an amenity, another thing we can offer our visitors." 


NFL football has always been the sport that draws the most wagers, but Atkinson said as sports betting expands, college football may take over as the most popular sports bet. 


"That's going to be particularly the case in the South," he said. "College football will be No. 1, I predict." 


In its first weekend, the Pearl River sportsbook saw numerous bets placed on Ole Miss, the only Mississippi team for whom a betting line was offered. 


"That's not surprising," Atkinson said. "People like to bet on their teams because they are familiar with them. They read about the team, watch their games. A betting line is really just an opinion. So when people bet, what they are saying is, 'I think my opinion is better than the oddsmaker's opinion.' That's why people bet on the teams they follow. They feel they have a good idea of what the team can do." 


Atkinson said it's been a four-month whirlwind to get the casino's sportsbook established, adding wagering technology required to take bets as well as hiring and training staff. 


Because sports betting is new to the state, Atkinson said Pearl River Resort is also taking measures to educate its customers, providing brochures and other information that explain the basics. 


"It's a very easy process, not intimidating at all," said Atkinson, who went over some of the basic wagers with the audience. "We don't want anyone making a wager they don't understand. That's true of all of our gaming and it's true for sports gaming, too. If you have a question, we are happy to explain how it works." 






Straight Bets 


■ The straight bet is the most common wager placed by sports bettors especially when it comes to sports such as football and basketball. A betting line is set, which is often referred to as a point spread, and you can either bet on the favorite and give-up the points or place a bet on the underdog and get the points. The favorite has to win the game by more than the set point spread in order to cash-in. The underdog has to win outright or lose by less than the point spread to "cover" and win the bet. 




Total Line Bets 


■ The second-most popular bet in many sports is on the total line. In this type of sports bet, a number is set for the combined final score of both teams and you then bet on the actual score staying "under" that total or going "over" the set number. Often you can bet on a total line by each half of a game when it comes to football and in basketball. 




Money Line Bets 


■ When you make a money line bet, you are picking a team to win straight-up without any point spread. The risk involved is the amount you have to wager to pick the favorite verses the amount you stand to make if you pick the underdog. These types of bets are released for all the major sports, but they primarily come into play for baseball and hockey. For example, if the Dodgers are favored at home against the Giants the money line might read San Francisco (+120) vs. Los Angeles (-135). You would stand to make $120 on a $100 bet on the Giants if they win and you would have to risk $135 to win $100 on a Dodgers' victory. 




Parlay Bets 


■ The act of grouping together two or more picks into one single bet is known as a parlay. It can be as few as two separate picks all the way up to a particular sportsbook's set limit (10-12 picks). The betting odds on a parlay payout are adjusted accordingly based on the total number of picks you group together. Usually they start at a 13-to-5 return in your favor for a two-team parlay and can go as high as 645-to-1 for a 10-team parlay. The trick to cashing-in on a parlay is that all of your picks must win or the entire parlay is lost. 




Head-to-Head Bets 


■ For sports such as NASCAR and professional golf, a common way to bet these events is to bet on the head-to-head results between just two competitors. Whichever one finishes the race or the tournament in the higher position wins. Many times a money line will be attached to each competitor as a way to handicap the match. This type of bet is very popular for sports such as these considering just how hard it is to pick an outright winner among a very large field.


Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is [email protected]



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