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College football games often a distraction

Casinos prepared for seasonal slowdown this fall

When casino revenues drop off in the fall, so do big-name entertainment acts. But casino representatives say it`s simply a numbers game.

With competition from football, hunting season and even golf – more than 100,000 spectators are expected in metro Jackson in just a few weeks for the Southern

Farm Bureau Classic – more people would rather be outdoors than inside when the weather cools off.

“As far as (casinos) slowing down during football season, yes, that`s true, but it`s not related to football,” said Christian Reese, spokesperson for Casino Magic Bay St.

Louis. “In general, this is typically the slower time of the year for casinos because school has started and people are finished taking vacations. This is nothing new and

is anticipated each year.”

Of the $2.5 billion in casino revenues reported to the Mississippi Gaming Commission in 1999, the highest revenues, $246 million, were reported in July.

In 1998, of the $2.1 billion in casino revenues, $207 million was reported in July. This year, with $1.8 billion in casino revenues through Aug. 31, the take in July was

$249 million.

Revenues typically begin sliding after the mid-year mark, with December usually reporting the lowest revenues of the year.

In 1998, casino revenues in December were $168 million; in 1999, they were $186 million.

Horseshoe Casino in Robinsonville, which consistently draws big-name entertainers, will not schedule entertainment for its entertainment venue, Bluesville, from Oct. 3

until nearly the year`s end while the casino is undergoing an expansion. When it reopens on Dec. 30, Martina McBride will be the headline act.

“The timing of the expansion has nothing to do with the time of the year,” said Sheila Stafford, spokesperson for Horseshoe Casino. “We moved our buffet temporarily

to Bluesville because it`s the only place we could put people while we`re tearing out the old buffet, which will become a casino floor.”

Even though it was not singled out as a major contributor to the decline in traffic, casino executives may have misjudged the impact of football in the south.

For instance, economists predict the economic impact at the Mississippi State University`s 40,656-seat Scott Field in Starkville and the University of Mississippi`s

50,577-seat Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford, located near the Philadelphia and Tunica casino markets, has been estimated at nearly $3 million per home game.

“There`s no doubt about the impact of college football games in Mississippi,” said Robert Ingram, assistant to University of Southern Mississippi President Horace

Fleming for economic development. “If your hometown is playing, you`re not going to miss a football game to go to a casino. I wouldn`t want to have major

entertainment at the Silver Star on the night Mississippi State was playing football.”

Ashley Skellie, public relations director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission in Jackson, who travels to the Gulf Coast often, said she hasn`t noticed a decline in

entertainment offerings for coast casinos.

“Lately, I`ve see more billboards advertising entertainers than ever,” she said.

Ingram said it`s his guess that “it`s less of a factor on the Gulf Coast because its population is so diversified.”

At Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, the entertainment calendar consists of concerts, free lobby acts and other special events such as boxing and golf, and at least two

concerts each month, Reese said.

“We always have free entertainment in the main lobby each day except on Monday night when we have Monday Night Football,” Reese said. “That in itself is an event

with hundreds of people attending just for football.”

In a report released June 30, “Gaming in the Mississippi Economy: A Marketing, Tourism, and Economic Perspective,” commissioned by the Mississippi Institutions

for Higher Learning and funded by the Legislature, Ingram, co-author of the study, said entertainment was verified as one of the major reasons that make a resort a

destination.

“Entertainment is one of the six or so real drivers in relation to gaming,” he said. “When you`re not having the big-name entertainment, you`re not going to have as many

out of state visitors. It`s a critical thing. If the casinos back off of that, it will hurt them and it will hurt us. I hope it`s not a trend.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.

About Lynne W. Jeter

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