Mississippi casinos see decline in gambling revenue

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Gambling revenue has fallen $550,000 since 2007 for casinos in Mississippi — from $2.8 billion to $2.25 billion.

Mississippi once was the nation’s third-largest gambling market, but has lost standing in the last few years.

Along with the gambling revenues, tax revenues from casinos have dropped $54.4 million, from $194 million in fiscal 2008 to $139.6 million in the fiscal year that ended June 30.

Officials cite competition from other states as the biggest challenge — more than the recession, Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010.

“Gaming isn’t unique anymore — it’s everywhere,” said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Heartland cities like Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis overtook Mississippi last year in the American Gaming Association’s list of the top 20 U.S. casino markets. So did Philadelphia, Pa., and the state of Connecticut. The Mississippi Gulf Coast was No. 8, at almost $1.1 billion in economic impact. Tunica County was No. 10, at $821.9 million. Las Vegas and Atlantic City continue to hold the top two spots.

“The industry is expanding. They’re putting facilities near large population centers and/or near borders with other states,” said Michael Pollock, managing director of Spectrum Gaming research firm.

“Early on, a lot of our visitors came from Oklahoma and Nebraska,” said Lyn Arnold, president and CEO of the Tunica County Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Foundation. “Now, Oklahoma has 92 gaming facilities. The competition has been a big drain.”

The state’s oldest casino, the Isle of Capri, is being renovated as a Golden Nugget casino. Spokesman Brad Rhines says it will reopen as the newest, freshest casino on the Gulf Coast.

Industry officials hope it becomes a symbol of rebirth for gambling in the state.

State Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, said the best bet is online gaming, currently illegal in Mississippi.

Moak said he’ll again try to pass a bill that would regulate, license and tax online gaming at 5 percent of gross revenue. Only companies with land casinos in Mississippi would be allowed to operate online.

“Online gaming is going on right now — it’s happening,” Moak said. “We need to tap into that.”

The state also is looking to create a more homegrown pool of future casino leaders familiar with the state’s specific market advantages.

The University of Southern Mississippi offers casino management certification via online classes as part of its four-year casino-management degree program. Its first two graduates were certified this past spring and about 10 others are enrolled, said Gwen Pate, associate dean of USM’s College of Business.

“We were finding that a lot of top-level jobs at the state’s casinos were going to out-of-state applicants,” she said.

Chad Pruitt is one of the first graduates. He’s worked for years in Beau Rivage Resort and Casino’s food-and-beverage and Fallen Oak golf course divisions and hopes to work his way into leadership.

“A degree is one thing,” he said, “but certification, I hope, will give me a competitive advantage.”

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