Competition can be good for business but not at Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos where total revenue for 2013 dropped to the lowest level since 1999—including 2005 and 2006 when Hurricane Katrina forced area casinos to close. Total revenue for December fell 5 percent. 2013 revenue rose above billion, but the year finished 3 percent below 2012 with a drop of million, according to numbers from the Mississippi Department of Revenue.
The recent blast of wintry weather also did not help revenue—in particular at Boomtown Casino in Biloxi. It was the only one of the 12 coastal casinos to close, albeit briefly, from 6 p.m. Tuesday, January 28 to 10 a.m., Wednesday, January 29. Boomtown Marketing Director Sunita Sailor said, “We’re a different kind of model of casino anyway. You know we don’t have the spa and hotel,” and management was concerned for the safety of their mostly local customers and employees. Other casinos relied on only essential staff, who stayed in casino hotels. Several closed their restaurants earlier than usual.
In northern Mississippi, the competitive situation is even worse, where 18 riverboat casinos ended 2013 with $1.072 billion in revenue, a decline of $84 million. Most of those losses occurred at Memphis-area casinos. Combined with the $30 million drop in Coastal casino winnings, the state was down $114 million for 2013 compared with 2012.
Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said, “Competition is fierce. I think competition is really hurting everyone.” He noted Pennsylvania casinos reported their first year with a decline in winnings and casino revenue in New Orleans was down 16 percent in December.
Still, Godfrey is optimistic. Casinos on the Coast are investing millions in new hotels, renovations and amenities, and the groundbreaking recently took place for the baseball stadium in downtown Biloxi. Godfrey stated with gambling now available in most states, casinos need to offer amenities that will bring visitors to Mississippi.
One casino taking Godfrey’s advice is Hollywood Casino Bay St. Louis where work has begun on a 350-foot lazy river water feature located next to the resorts’ swimming pool. The attraction, which will offer a leisurely 5-7 minute ride, will open in late spring and be available for resort guests only, said General Manager Chett Harrison. A new walk-in entry pool, sun deck, hot tub and swim-up bar also are under construction.
Harrison noted parent company Penn National is constantly seeking new ways to increase revenues beyond the casino floor. “The average customer gambles less than four hours a day. With our newly renovated hotel, updated casino, Arnold Palmer signature golf course, a Top 100 Good Sam RV Park and now a Lazy River, we are well positioned for long term success and a strong tourism partner for the Mississippi Gulf Coast.”