On January 8, 2019, in response to a patron’s appeal of a Mississippi Gaming Commission decision, the Mississippi Court of Appeals ruled that a slot voucher, a/k/a TITO, was a gaming debt under the Mississippi Gaming Control Act and that any dispute over the payment of a slot voucher was governed by the patron dispute provisions of the Act.
Two patrons played slot machines at a Mississippi casino for 32 days in 2012 and 2013. During that time they played in $6,500,000 and netted $280,000 in winnings. Twenty-seven months later, they returned to the casino and asked to cash in 21 vouchers totaling $41,317, which had expired 24 months earlier. The face of each voucher stated “Ticket Void after 60 days” or similar language. Because the casino had changed slot accounting systems, the casino could not determine who had won the vouchers, only that the vouchers had not been previously cashed in.
The casino declined to redeem the expired tickets, and the patrons asked for an investigation by the Executive Director under the Gaming Control Act patron dispute provisions.
As we round the bend into 2019, we pause to reflect on the top Mississippi gaming stories of 2018. Here is our list:
- Out of the Shadows and Into the Light. On May 14, 2018, the United States Supreme Court issued its ruling in Christie vs. NCAA, in which the Supreme Court ruled that the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) impermissibly preempted the states from regulating sports betting on their own. In the immediate aftermath, Mississippi was one of the first states to adopt regulations to allow sports betting. On August 1, bettors placed the first legal sports wagers in the State of Mississippi. In the subsequent 4 months, gross gaming revenue has increased 5.25% over 2017, and 3.00% over the same 4 month period in 2016. Additionally, gross gaming revenue for 2018 is on track to increase by approximately 2% from 2017.
- First in the Nation. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians became the first tribe in the United States to offer sports wagering by opening sports books at its Golden Moon, Silver Star, and Bok Homa casinos.
- Not Very “Neighborly.” While Tunica casinos celebrated the launch of sports wagering, its neighbor to the west (Arkansas) authorized new competition. On November 6, 2018, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the state to issue licenses to operate four full-fledged casinos, which operations may include sports betting. Previously, only electronic games of skill were authorized at two racetracks in the state. The two newly authorized locations are Pope and Jefferson County, but no definitive plans have been established to open casinos in either county.
- Trailblazers. The Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association selected its first class of the Mississippi Gaming Hall of Fame. Inductees were Lyle Berman, Co-Founder of Grand Casinos; Jack Binion, Founder of Horseshoe Gaming; William S. Boyd, Executive Chairman of Boyd Gaming; Bernie Goldstein, Founder of Isle of Capri Casinos; State Senator Tommy Gollott; and, Rick Carter and Terry Green, Co-Founders of Island View Casino Resort.
- New Game in Town. Island View Casino Resort opened its new Beach Casino, a $75 million expansion including a 43,000 square foot smoke free casino with 900 slots and 18 table games.
- Flights of Fancy. The Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau announced new direct chartered flights to Tunica from Atlanta, Charlotte, Orlando, and St. Petersburg.
- We’re On; We’re Off. After announcing that Churchill Downs, Inc. would be acquiring from Eldorado Resorts, Inc. the Lady Luck Casino in Vicksburg, the parties terminated the deal in July.
- Powerball, Anyone? In August, the Mississippi Legislature authorized a state lottery for education and infrastructure needs. The Governor appointed a board of directors to oversee the lottery, expected to commence operations in late 2019.
- Elbow Room. Treasure Bay announced an expansion to include a new parking lot and parking garage and a 10,000 foot increase in its gaming floor.
- Growing Family. Foundation Gaming Group (FGG) added to its portfolio the Fitz Casino and Hotel in Tunica. FGG already owns the WaterView Casino in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
- Closing Time. Caesars Entertainment announced it would cease gaming operations at the Tunica Roadhouse Casino effective January 31, 2019, further evidence of the challenging market in Tunica.
- Motion to Table. The Mississippi Gaming Commission considered, and tabled, the proposal of Long Beach Harbor Resort for a gaming project in Long Beach, Mississippi.
- Gobbled Up. In October 2018, Penn National Gaming completed the acquisition of Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. (Ameristar Casino Vicksburg), as well as the related divestitures to Boyd Gaming Corporation and real estate transactions with Gaming and Leisure Properties, Inc. After the conclusion of the transaction, Penn became the largest regional gaming operator in North America, with 40 facilities in 18 jurisdictions, including 6 in Mississippi.