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State's casinos rake in bigger winnings

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Mississippi’s 30 state-licensed casinos boosted their winnings from gamblers a bit last month — despite the threat to tourism from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Players left behind $203.2 million, up from $198.2 million in April, the Mississippi State Tax Commission reported yesterday.

However, the numbers still lagged behind those posted before the economic meltdown of 2008 that has cut travel and discretionary spending. The latest figure was down 8.8 percent from the $227.2 million in May 2009 and down 13.8 percent from $235.7 million won in May 2008.

Along the Coast, 11 casinos took in $95.4 million last month, up from $92.5 million in April. But that total lagged behind the $97.7 million won in May 2009 and $107.5 million won in May 2008.

The 19 casinos along the Mississippi River, including Tunica, Vicksburg, Greenville, Lula and Natchez, won $107.9 million last month, up from $105.7 million in April, but falling behind the $125 million won in May 2009 and $128.2 million won in May 2008.

So far having avoided soiling of its coastal beaches, Mississippi has started a national marketing campaign to promote the state as a tourist destination, funded by $15 million from BP PLC. Alabama and Louisiana also are getting $15 million each, while $25 million has been earmarked for Florida.

However, Richard Forester, executive director of the Harrison County Tourism Commission, said the casinos — unlike other tourist attractions such as beaches — aren’t as threatened by either the actual oil or public fears of planning a vacation to the coast.

“The majority of the people who come here for gaming reasons never set foot on the beach,” Forester said. “There’s no oil on the casino floor.”

Mississippi’s overall drop in casino winnings over the past two years has mirrored other gambling states, including neighboring Louisiana.

Louisiana’s 18 state-licensed casinos took in $203.6 million in May, down 9.3 percent from May 2009 and 13.4 percent from May 2008. Nevada’s revenue in April, the latest month for which figures are available, was down 18.9 percent from April 2008. New Jersey casino revenue fell 29 percent from May 2008 to May 2010.

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