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Interest spikes in new Coast casinos

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — As Gulf Coast casinos continue to rebound from Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Gaming Commission is seeing more developers wanting to enter the game.

“We have had more interest in the past 30 days for new operators than in the past 12 months,” said Gaming Commission member John Hairston, “so the future appears very encouraging. Most inquiries have been for very positive developments.”

Hairston said there is room for more casinos on the Coast “but they must add to the total revenue pie rather than redistribute what we already have.”

Any new casino needs to add value and visitors, he said.

The credit markets are clearly thawing, said Hairston, who is chief executive officer of Hancock Bank.

“However, the lack of development has been tied more to investor confidence in the economy and consumer comfort with discretional spending than a simple lack of credit,” he said.

He thinks creditworthy businesses are missing an opportunity by not borrowing.

“Banks are flush with liquidity — and they eagerly want to lend it — but businesses have low confidence in the economy. The combination of low rates, eager banks and the 30 percent rebate to the hospitality industry via a 10-year tax abatement makes the Mississippi Coast a tremendous place to borrow and invest right now.”

The Gaming Commission’s reports from 2000 to 2009 show the number of visitors at coast casinos declined over the past decade. Hairston thinks the numbers don’t represent what the Gaming Commission is hearing from casinos.

That could be because there’s no longer a security guard with a clicker counting each person who enters a casino. Now, he said, the numbers are calculated by a combination of player-card usage and hotel check-ins.

The number of casino hotel rooms remains 1,800 below pre-Katrina levels, said Scott King, director of research and policy for the Gulf Coast Business Council.

“If you don’t have as many hotel rooms, you can’t accommodate as many visitors,” King said.

South Mississippi still is a drive-in market, but casinos are being more aggressive and flying in players, said Jeremiah Gerald, director of air service and business development at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport.

The number of people flying out of Gulfport was down 17 percent in 2009, airport director Bruce Frallic said, but charter flights were up 187 percent — in large part because of the casinos.

“We’re probably one of the biggest charter airports in the country,” Gerald said.

Beau Rivage Casino has increased the number of passengers it is flying to South Mississippi by about 1,000 per month, and Gerald said the Grand Casino Biloxi and IP Casino Resort also are also doing regular charters and other Coast casinos are booking seats.

“There has definitely been an increase in gaming passengers,” he said.

Of the 31,000 passengers flying out of Gulfport each month, more than 8,000 are booked by the casinos. That’s in addition to those who book their own casino vacations, and vendors who do business with coast casinos.

Keith Smith, Boyd Gaming Corporation president and American Gaming Association chairman, said 2010 will be a rebuilding year for casinos, “one that is marked by both gradual growth and continued innovation.”

He said Atlantic City’s position as the dominant casino market along the East Coast has been challenged, as are jurisdictions in other areas.

“Ultimately, however, competition breeds innovation,” Smith said, and casinos will need to find ways to provide experiences their customers can’t find elsewhere.

Hairston said in response to the challenges from other states, “We simply need to make sure we have more to do on the Coast than just gaming. We need a great destination that draws many more visitors than we had before, and not all from drive-in.”

Richard Forester, director of Mississippi Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said the charm, heritage and history of South Mississippi set it apart as a casino market.

“I don’t want us to be Atlantic City, I don’t want us to be Vegas,” he said.

“There’s something genuine about our destination that you don’t find in these other, manufactured, destinations.”


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About Megan Wright


  1. I just don’t see it,casinos are starting to loose there luster and appeal,sure people from out of state love to visit them,maybe its because they are different from other casinos,as all casinos have something that really set them apart from the next.I can remember I could not hardly stand waiting to turn of age so I could go to the gulf coast casinos,not to win it big,mind you,that would be foolish and lets face it your odds are the same as winning the lottery,slim to none.The changes brought on by Katrina and recent economic harships do to Katrina have resulted in the casinos to rely on visitors out of state .Do not get me wrong there is nothing wrong with that,but what do they offer these people out of state.Well they offer them great rates on rooms,or free rooms.They offer them great deals on meals,if not free meals.They offer them so many little perks with a bit of southern hospitality and it sounds so appealing.Well hospitality should start at home here in Mississippi.Why do casinos not offer these same perks to the Ms. residents?Could it be that do to the economic hardship brought on by Katrina,the government?Who knows?In the 10 years I have been going to the casinos and I mean all of them,which I have players cards for,I have never recieved anything that made it worth while going to them.Not so much a thank you for being a card carrying club member.Maybe its because I don’t go everday or every weekend.Maybe its because I don’t spend a grand or more every time I go.

  2. Lets face it I have never spent an amount of that nature at a casino.Casinos reach out to people from out of state because they realize they have lost there luster and appeal to the people in state.The promise to have looser slots and free this and free that does seem appealing for awhile to residents of the gulf coast and residents of Ms. and probably all over the U.S.But you can only promise this stuff for so long and people who go periodically,dare I say religiously, and for those who go every once in awhile wether it be people in or out of state start to realize the money they spend trying to build up these reward points just so they can get a free meal or a free room or something free realize it was foolish and stops becoming fun to them.I am not bashing casinos,though it may sound that way,I am not.I think the casinos do help the gulfcoast economy,schools,and as well as those few who have seen a struggle in life and hit it big..I just think if they worked a little bit different on gaining Ms.residents as well a promoting special offers for more Mississippians they would see a tremendous difference in revinue.

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