Investment pays off in Tunica

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Life in Mississippi tends to run a tad slow. Nobody is in a real rush and the pace is easygoing.

Then there’s Art Heun’s world where frenetic best describes his life.

Heun is the race and sports manager at BetMGM’s sportsbook at the Gold Strike Casino in Tunica. Things move pretty fast there, especially on football weekends.

“We draw big crowds,” Heun, 48, said. “We spent $7 million on the sportsbook and the restaurant that adjoins it and our main focus is on customer service.”

He can afford to do that because of Gold Strike’s partnership with BetMGM. The folks in New Jersey handle all the risk management in setting and adjusting the lines. Heun just has to make sure his customers are aware of the house rules and they’re up to speed on the line moves.

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“It’s been great working with MGM,” he said. “I don’t have to worry about the numbers. They take care of that for us.”

Heun is representing his book in Gaming Today’s Bookies Battle contest sponsored by Station Casinos. This is his third year and so far, it has been his best as a contestant. Through the first 13 weeks, he was 100-88 and is currently 105-99 with three weeks remaining. He attributes his success to something akin to a Seinfeld episode where George Costanza landed his job with the Yankees by doing the exact opposite of his normal instincts.

“Yeah, something like that,” Heun said with a laugh. “I’ve done much better than the first two years and I’m doing the opposite of what I did before. I’m focusing more on the ‘dogs and the strategy seems to be working.”

But he admits trying to handicap football games during a pandemic can be a dicey proposition.

“It’s definitely a challenge not knowing who’s going to play,” he said. “You turn your picks in Tuesday and by Thursday, something comes up and the entire handicapping of the game changes.”

When the coronavirus shut things down in Mississippi in the spring, Heun took advantage of his time away from work to get his golf game in shape.

“I’ve got two kids, ages 12 and 10 who keep me insanely busy,” he said. “Getting out and playing golf releases a lot of tension.”

The Memphis native started out in 1994 working on the floor as a supervisor. He moved around the area a bit and was at the Gold Strike when the property decided to get involved in sports betting.

“When they legalized sports betting in Mississippi a couple years ago, I decided to throw my hat into the ring,” he said. “I got the job and it’s been great. I love it.”

He may not get a lot of love from Ole Miss or Mississippi State football fans. Heun’s Twitter handle is @THESECSUCKS.

“I from Memphis and I went to the University of Memphis,” he said. “I’m a huge Memphis fan and I’m surrounded by friends who are Ole Miss fans. I get tired of them trying to tell me how superior they are so I came up with the Twitter handle.”

Tunica is about 40 miles from Memphis so if Heun needs to get away from all the SEC stuff, it’s a quick drive over the bridge to be with his fellow Memphians. But he doesn’t mind the good-natured ribbing.

“It’s all in good fun,” he said.

Heun is looking forward to the Gold Strike’s race book, which is being added to the sportsbook, just in time for Oaklawn Park’s opening to its 2021 meet next month.

“We’re going to be the first casino in Tunica to have horse racing,” he said. “We’re working on the contracts with the various racetracks for the signal and once we get that done, we expect it to be a big boost to our business.”

But it’s the sportsbook that is the driving force. With 50 televisions throughout and all the games on, and yes, he doesn’t discriminate against the SEC, Heun has seen business pick up and bettors becoming regulars.

“It’s wonderful seeing the growth of the book and MGM has been a great partner,” he said. “It’s only going to get bigger and bigger.”

About the Author

Steve Carp

Steve Carp is a six-time Nevada Sportswriter of the Year. A 30-year veteran of the Las Vegas sports journalism scene, he covered the Vegas Golden Knights for the Las Vegas Review-Journal from 2015-2018.

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