Sports betting had been a steady business for the Silver Star and Golden Moon casinos in Philadelphia before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last March, the Pearl River Resort was forced to close because of the pandemic, and as sports at all levels across the U.S. shut down around the same time, there wouldn’t have been much on which to bet had the resort stayed open.
Finally reopening in late August, business resumed almost two years to the date of the opening of the Sportsbook sports betting lounge at the resort. Soccer and baseball were in the midst of their seasons, and the NBA had also resumed in Orlando, Florida, with college football and the NFL right around the corner.
“When college football came back, followed by the NFL, we had everything going on, and that’s when everything started picking up for us,” Director of Sportsbook Chris Hopwood said. “All of the customers started coming back, and it became fun again.”
Sportsbook opened in August 2018 following a Supreme Court decision that struck down a law prohibiting sports gambling in most states. Since then, it has seen approximately two million bets taken and more than $70 million paid out to bettors, Hopwood said, and close to $25 million has been paid out since reopening last August.
“For sports betting, things did pick up very well,” Hopwood said. “Our location at Bok Homa was really busy, and here it slowly started coming back because we’re more of a transient, tourist place, so we get big crowds from Louisiana and Alabama. We were a little slow to start with here, and if you watch our table games or slots, it’s still a little slow, because those customers haven’t quite come back, but for me, it’s been going full steam ahead.”
In addition to generating revenue for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, which runs the resort, the reopening also meant a return to work for employees who were furloughed following last March’s closure. Toni Eaves, who works in the bar at the Sportsbook lounge twice a week, said business at the lounge is similar to how it was before.
“It feels the same, except we have to wear masks now,” Eaves said.
And she’s happy sports betting has been doing so well since the resort’s reopening.
“It’s very important,” Eaves said. “They stop and gamble and eat — it gets people in here.”
Half a million dollars has been invested property-wide in order to help guests safely enjoy casino activities, Hopwood said, and that includes precautions taken in the Sportsbook lounge. The individual kiosks and mobile app, which presently can only be used on the resort’s property, are an important part of that effort, along with things like plastic barriers between kiosks, hand wipes and hand sanitizer stations and temperature checks at the resort’s entrance.
“We’ve done almost everything we can as far as spacing goes,” Hopwood said. “It does make it a little tough for us because of the spacing in the Sportsbook — we did take some of the seating out — with the amount of customers we have, you’re trying to get them through as fast as possible so we’re not too congested.”
Choctaw Tribal Chief Cyrus Ben said in a statement to The Star that Sportsbook continues to be one of the resort’s fastest-growing and most popular venues.
“We have placed much emphasis on providing our customers with an array of opportunities to play whether onsite, at a Sportsbook kiosk or on a mobile app,” Ben said. “We have a great team leading the operations and continually looking for new ways to improve and offer more features for our gamers. Sportsbook has been an excellent addition to our Resort operations, and we are excited to soon showcase major feature upgrades in our mobile application next month. This upgrade will almost double our current betting option for our sports-minded clientele, and we look forward to welcoming more gamers to this interactive and exciting playing experience.”
Hopwood said the resort is welcoming both old and new customers to Sportsbook.
“We’re willing to help and teach people how to bet,” Hopwood said. “We want people to come, learn and have fun with sports betting.”