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Casinos prepare for a different kind of madness this March

Las Vegas Sports Book. Photo courtesy of Telesouth Communications Inc.

“It’s almost like a little kid learning that Christmas has been canceled.”

That’s the thought that went through the head of Neal Atkinson, the Director of Gaming at the Pearl River Resort, when he learned that the NCAA Tournament had been canceled as a result of the worldwide coronavirus outbreak. 

Every year, March Madness is one of the largest sporting events on the calendar, especially in the world of sports betting, so the loss of the 2020 edition of the tournament will leave a void for Mississippi casinos. 

In 2019, the state’s first year with legal sports gaming, over $24.5 million in bets were placed on basketball alone across Mississippi. With the growth of sports betting in the state over the past year, Atkinson anticipated an even higher total in 2020. 

“It’s a huge impact for us…Before this happened, March Madness was set up to be absolutely incredible. March 2019 was our busiest month and highest volume month as far as sports bets that we’re taken…The state has been trending each month ‘20% year-over-year’ in handle growth, so the impact this year will be even bigger than it was last year.”

The losses won’t be confined to sportsbooks as foot traffic at the casinos could see a decline in the absence of sports betting as more and more events get canceled. 

“It’s obviously going to have a negative impact on revenue and all aspects of their properties because of the additional foot traffic that has been driven by sports wagering, so the casinos will feel the effects of this but deal with it appropriately,” Allen Godfrey, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission said.  

The impact of the tournament’s cancelation certainly won’t be limited to Mississippi. Prior to the 2019 NCAA Tournament, the American Gaming Association stated that 47 million Americans would wager $8.5 billion throughout the tournament with $3.9 billion worth of bets being placed at a casino.

Along with Atkinson, LuAnn Pappas, the CEO of the Scarlett Pearl Casino, acknowledged that while a loss of revenue may occur, the focus should be on safety. 

“We supported the decision and think it was the right thing to do,” she said. 

Pappas did explain that because sports betting is still relatively new in Mississippi, it does not account for as much of their revenue as some may think. 

Both Pappas and Atkinson stated that their properties have increased their efforts to sanitize surfaces and limit large crowds, which is in step with state and federal recommendations. 

If you placed a futures bet on any canceled events at the Pearl River Resort or the Scarlet Pearl Casino, you will be able to receive a full refund. 

There have been plenty of cancellations, but certain leagues and events have simply suspended activities due to the spread of the virus, leaving the door open to resume. This list includes the NBA season, the start of the MLB season, the Masters and much more.  

While the future is unclear as the world awaits a resolution to this pandemic, Atkinson has an optimistic outlook. 

“It’s going to hurt in the long run, but we should be able to recover.”

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