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VOL. 123 | NO. 206 | Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Miss. Casino Revenue Drops 19 Percent in Sept.

By JACK ELLIOTT JR. | Associated Press Writer

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JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - The national economic slowdown and a hurricane-induced break hit Mississippi's casino industry in September as revenue dropped 19 percent from the month before, and the state's chief regulator said the dip from the economy could linger for several months.

"We've been riding down a four-lane road with the casino industry in Mississippi, but I think we'll be riding down a two-lane road until the economy gets better," said Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

In Mississippi, last month's revenue from 29 state-regulated casinos was down 18.8 percent from August and 18.9 percent from September 2007.

The drop came amid declines at bigger gaming destinations. Atlantic City, New Jersey, said revenue from 11 casinos was down 15 percent in September, the steepest monthly fall since 1978. In Nevada, casino revenues were down 8 percent in August from the same month in 2007.

Gregory said gaming venues in Nevada and New Jersey attract international visitors in additional national travelers.

"With our drive-in market, we've been able to hold off the downturn. Time is just catching up with us," Gregory told The Associated Press. "I am expecting a big hit in the next few months."

Gregory said the gaming industry thrives when customers have more discretionary money to spend.

"That is 'fun' money, whether it's spent on entertainment, restaurants or gambling, when you have less dollars to spend ... and that's what we're seeing, people watching their pocketbooks."

Figures released Monday by the Mississippi State Tax Commission showed gross gaming revenue fell to $193.3 million in September from $238.1 million in August and $238.3 million in September 2007 .

Casino revenue is the net amount of money collected from gamblers. It is not profit and excludes operating costs, other expenses and additional hotel, restaurant or bar revenues generated by the resorts.

Gaming revenue is tracked by calendar year. For 2008 so far, gaming revenue totaled $2.1 billion.

Gaming tax collections are tracked on the state's fiscal year, which runs from July 1 to June 30. Gaming tax collections for September were $28.7 million, up from $26.4 million in August.

On the Gulf Coast, local casino revenue for September was $85.5 million, down from $112.1 million in August and compared to $111.3 million in September 2007.

Coastal casinos closed early Aug. 31 as Hurricane Gustav approached. They reopened on Sept. 3.

In Vicksburg, local revenue figures released by city officials show tax revenue for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was down about 3.8 percent compared to last year.

Neither Vicksburg nor Warren County built an increase in gaming revenue into their budgets in the new fiscal year.

Tax Commission figures showed the casinos along the Mississippi River, including Vicksburg, had gross revenue of $107.7 million, compared to $126 million in August and $127 million a year ago.

Scott King, director of research and policy at the Gulf Coast Business Council in Gulfport, said when casinos collect their revenue data helps determine any gain or loss.

King said, for example, if a month ends on a Tuesday, but the casino does not check the slot machines until Thursday, the revenues from the last couple days of the month will not be reported until the following month.

"This is one reason why you sometimes see significant month over month fluctuations in revenues," he said.

King said in the case of Gustav, when casinos shut down Aug. 31, they likely checked all their slot machines at one time – rather than what might be a usual few hundred per day – and some of the money that normally would have been counted in September showed up in August revenues.

Nevertheless, King said there was a significant impact because of Gustav and Hurricane Ike plus the slowing economy.

"The interesting thing about hurricanes, even the threat for one is that a lot of drive-in visitors will avoid the coast in the days preceding and following a storm, which also impacts casinos," King said. "In the case of this year, the coast literally experienced a three-week period where potential visitors were spooked by the 'possibility' of Gustav/Ike making landfall here."

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

PROPERTY SALES 85 205 21,165
MORTGAGES 76 206 24,338
BUILDING PERMITS 183 321 43,755
BANKRUPTCIES 48 92 13,560