$1 Billion Invested In South Mississippi

Casino operators and developers are spending more than $1 billion to buy, build and renovate Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos, which have weathered Hurricane Katrina, the recession and BP oil spill. Casino revenue for the region could top $1 billion for 2012. Even Tunica got into the act with a new poker room at the Horseshoe (l.).

Despite Hurricane Katrina, the troubled economy and the BP oil spill, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast casino industry is looking up—way up. Through November, gross casino revenue was down million compared to the same period in 2012. But December revenue could push casino revenue for the year beyond billion.

In addition, operators and developers are spending more than $1 billion to purchase, construct, expand and renovate Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos. In the past two and a half years, four of the Coast’s 12 casinos were sold or are about to be sold for a total of $653 million. In December, the Mississippi Gaming Commission approved the construction of Scarlet Pearl in D’Iberville—that city’s first casino–and Hemingway Resort in Gulfport, themed on the life of author Ernest Hemingway.  Hard Rock Biloxi’s new Platinum hotel tower will open soon, and hotels also will be built at Margaritaville Casino Biloxi and Silver Slipper. Hotel rooms are under renovation at Grand Biloxi, Golden Nugget, Island View’s south tower and Palace casinos. As a result, the Gulf Coast soon will have 1,000 new hotel rooms and 1,200 updated rooms.

Casino visitors also can look forward to tropical swimming pools, new shops and more restaurants. The Beau Rivage Resort & Casino has provided land in downtown Biloxi for a new baseball stadium.

Doug Shipley, president and chief executive officer of Margaritaville said, “It really is a good market. I think it’s weathered the economic climate well. You have some very, very smart operators and some of the best gaming companies in the world, all within a couple of miles of each other.”

Shipley said Mississippi’s low casino tax—12 percent—is behind a lot of the current investment. “Bankers look at that,” he said. An important banking executive, Gaming Commission Chairman John Hairston, chief executive officer of Hancock Bank, added, “Construction projects, materials and land acquisition are typically a bargain in a sluggish economy. Optimistic investors will deploy capital ahead of a positive surge in the economy to get a better price to build a project. The best time to build or buy is when no one else is building and buying.”

Effective January 1, the gaming commission began requiring that casinos commit to a higher level of investment and bring new amenities to the market. When the new regulations first were proposed, Hairston said, “detractors claimed that existing operators would cease any further investment in their properties. One attorney claimed we would never see ‘another nickel of investment from existing casinos.’ The Commission believed otherwise, that existing operators would refuse investment more so if we allowed slot shops to be built up and down the coastline.” He said the recent surge of investment proves his point.

Hairston noted the area continues to need more amenities. “Scarlet Pearl had no amenity when first proposed but in multiple conversations agreed to add an amenity unique to our region, a Big Kahuna-quality mini-golf course,” he said.  Still, “The Coast is nowhere near its tourism potential.”

Up the Mississippi River, Horseshoe Casino & Hotel Tunica recently opened the state’s largest poker room, with 25 tables, a World Series of Poker Lounge and updated décor and amenities. Darold Londo, regional general manager, Caesars Entertainment Mid-South, said, “The Horseshoe has been known for a legendary poker experience for years and today we are very pleased to be able to increase that experience with the largest poker room in Mississippi offering all the comforts of home, including: a World Series of Poker Lounge, massages at the table for players, comfortable seating, free Wi-Fi and electric and USB outlets at each poker table seat just to name a few. We were good. Now we are confident we have the best poker room and the best amenities to go with the best dealers at the best casino!”

As part of its grand opening festivities, on March 29 the Horseshoe Poker Room will give away a 2014 Chevy V6 Camaro. Poker players may earn one entry into the Camaro giveaway for every five hours of play in the poker room.

Horseshoe Poker Room will host the Professional Football Championship Party in the World Series of Poker lounge on February 2 and the Ladies International Poker Series March 21-24.