Sports betting has been sweeping across the U.S. over the past year. More and more states are taking advantage of a Supreme Court ruling allowing them to legalize an activity that had been illegal but thrived underground.
But if sports betting is now above board, it’s having mixed fortunes in part of the Deep South, where the first wager was made a year ago.
CGTN’s Owen Fairclough reports from Mississippi.
The Mississippi Delta: the birthplace of Blues music and home to what was once the poorest place in the United States.
But Tunica’s fortunes changed dramatically in the early 1990s when riverboat gambling was legalized.
Jobs and tax revenue helped turn the kind of impoverished agricultural community immortalized in William Faulkner’s bleak novels into a picture postcard of the Deep South.
“We’re a small town with a population of around 1,000 people,” says Mayor Chuck Cariker as the town hall’s bell chimes when we meet on Main Street.
“In this community, we know everybody. You feel everybody’s sorrow and pain when it hurts.”
Chuck witnessed that pain first hand when Tunica’s casino boom turned to bust as competition from casinos elsewhere in the Deep South led to dwindling revenues and closures.
As he drives us around tranquil residential streets with impeccable lawns, Chuck says: “I hate to see when casinos close, because it changes our jobs for people. Our unemployment rate goes up and it just dislocates families.”
Now, Tunica is betting on sports gambling to revive its fortunes.
Gold Strike Casino placed its first sports bet on August 1, 2018 after a landmark Supreme Court allowed individual states to begin opening casino sportsbooks.
“We’re having our best year ever,” Tsai said. “We have more people coming through our doors. We have more gaming revenue we have more people enjoying our facilities.”
But right across the car lot, we find a very visible and very different story at the derelict Tunica Roadhouse.
Signs plastered across the front door tell visitors it closed in January. Sports betting arrived too late for the casino’s owners, who said it was no longer profitable.
The owners of Resorts Casino had the same reason for closing it down at the end of June. And both also blamed competition from neighboring Arkansas, where sports betting has just been legalized.
Competition aside, Tunica’s revenues haven’t matched initial forecasts. And restricting sports betting to casinos only may not have helped. In May, Mississippi sports wagers totaled $17.4 million.
But in New Jersey, where sports gamblers can play online as well casinos, it was nearly $320 million. Nowhere else in the U.S. took as much money.
Amid the rush to cash in, some experts are concerned about the lack of research into the psychological impact of being free to bet on any element of just about any sport — whether in a casino or on your phone.
Professor James Whelan is the Co-Director at The Institute for Gambling Education and Research in Memphis, Tennessee – another state jumping on the sports betting bandwagon.
“We know gamblers tend to be impulsive and when you’re watching a game, or a match, and you can make a wager on some sort of event that occurs,” he says.
“It keeps you both excited, excited and invested in the game but, it also might be predatory to people who tend to be impulsive in nature.”
In Tunica, Chuck Cariker is trying to reduce his community’s economic dependence on gambling with diverse tourist attractions, while overcoming Mississippi’s recognized stigma of slavery.
“We’ve got a lot to offer and people say: ‘Oh I don’t wanna go to Mississippi.’ Come and give us a chance, give us an opportunity to show you what we have.”
A town steeped in the blues that needs a sure bet to secure its economic future.
David Strow discusses sports betting in the US
For more on sports betting in the U.S, Owen Fairclough asked David Strow, vice president of Communications with Boyd Gaming, how much concern there was over revenue projections falling short.