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National, state trends impact four-casino market

Vicksburg sees shifts, shake ups in gaming

VICKSBURG — The four-casino market here may seem small, but it’s ranked third in the state, and features surprising shifts among competitors.

“Last year, Mississippi became the second-largest gaming destination outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City,” said Kurt Rushing, special events/VIP manager of Rainbow. “The Vicksburg market is ranked third in Mississippi after Tunica, then the Gulf Coast, which is quickly gaining ground on Tunica.”

Even though the Isle of Capri was the first casino to enter the Vicksburg market, on Aug. 9, 1993, the two-level boat with 24,000 square feet, 800 slot machines and 750 employees, it is the city’s third largest casino.

Harrah’s, the second casino to enter the fray, on Nov. 15, 1993, is a tri-level boat with 18,000 square feet, 650 slot machines, 32 gaming tables and approximately 600 employees. It is the market’s fourth largest casino.

Ameristar, the third casino to enter the market, has become the largest gaming facility and is No. 1 in the Vicksburg market. The tri-level boat that opened Feb. 27, 1994 now has 42,000 square feet, more than 1,400 slot machines, 50 table games and 1,100 employees.

“We added two new restaurants in our recent expansion, quite a few machines and games,” said Nikki Shelton, director of marketing.

Rainbow, the last to arrive, on July 12, 1994, is the only casino south of the interstate. Even though it is the second-largest casino, it has the smallest number of employees because it is a one-tier boat. With 35,000 square feet, the boat has 1,005 slot machines, 15 table games and 500 employees.

“When Rainbow came into town, the Isle of Capri called Rainbow the ‘dream-on’ casino because there were already three well-established casinos in Vicksburg doing extremely well and no one expected the market to hold the fourth one — or for it to do well,” said Rushing. “Within two years, we passed up Harrah’s. Last year, we passed up Isle of Capri and now we’re starting to catch up to Ameristar.”

Rushing attributed Rainbow’s progress to its marketing focus, he said.

“You don’t see Rainbow’s commercials on television,” Rushing said. “Instead, we cater to local people and, rather than impress people with fancy French and European cuisine and pastries that tourists who are more exposed to different areas of the world might prefer, Rainbow’s restaurant serves mustard greens, fried okra, fried chicken, fried catfish — good Southern food. It’s truly like a local hangout. We have one of the highest ratios of ‘day one’ people and we have a really good reputation for customer service. It’s very laid back here. Everybody knows everybody.”

All four casinos combined make up the largest employer in Vicksburg.

“The casino industry has been very good for our community,” said Vicksburg Mayor Robert Walker. “We obviously have benefited from gaming tax collections, but there have also been other related businesses that have contributed to the area economy. And one aspect that many people may overlook is the number of people who have become residents of the community since gaming. As volunteers, they have done so much to help improve the quality of life with charitable contributions. We’ve had great support for The United Way and other agencies from gaming employees, who have been good corporate citizens. It’s been a plus-plus-plus situation for Vicksburg, Mississippi.”

Rushing said easy interstate access has made it easy to find a skilled labor force, adding that 25% of the management staff commutes daily from the metro Jackson area.

More visitors are staying longer when they visit Vicksburg, with $110 million in tourist dollars spent on non-gaming expenses last year, said Lenore Barkley, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“To accommodate the increase in overnight guests, two new hotels — the Jameson Inn and an Isle of Capri addition — opened during the last year, bringing the city’s hotel inventory to 1,900 rooms,” she said. “We also have 95 B&B rooms, which make up an important segment of our tourism industry.”

Vicksburg Chamber of Commerce executive director Jimmy Heidel said preliminary plans are in the works for additional tourism draws, including an 18-hole golf course along the Mississippi River banks, and a floating interpretative museum.

“We’re following trends that indicate tourists are staying longer and looking for other tourist attractions,” Heidel said. “It makes good business sense to capitalize on that.”

Calls to Harrah’s and Isle of Capri were not returned by press time.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at mbj@msbusiness.com or (601) 364-1018.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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