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Casinos struggle back from recession

NEW ORLEANS — Amid a new reality – casinos are not recession-proof – gambling in Louisiana and Mississippi is staging a slow comeback from the economic meltdown of 2008, aggravated for a time by the Gulf of Mexico oil spill that chased away some tourists.

But at least for the rest of 2010 and into 2011, industry analysts expect many players to keep a tight grip on their wallets amid uncertain economic times – and those who watch casinos are largely unwilling to predict when full recovery might come.

“Gamblers, like other people, have to feel comfortable about their financial situation,” said Joseph Weinert, senior vice president of Linwood, N.J.-based Spectrum Gaming Group. “There had been the perception that the industry was largely recession-proof, but we saw what happened a couple of years ago. When the economy got tanked, the industry got whacked.”

For the first three quarters of 2010, revenue at Mississippi’s state-licensed casinos totaled $1.83 billion, down 12.9 percent from the first nine months of 2008 – the period leading into the U.S. economic freefall. Still, the decline has slowed. According to the Mississippi Department of Revenue, casino takes dropped only 3.3 percent from the first three quarters of 2009.

In the latest count, the 11 casinos across the Mississippi Gulf Coast were down 12.7 percent from the first nine months of 2008, but recorded only a 1.3 percent drop from 2009, indicating that the oil spill had only a small effect on gambling. The 19 casinos on the Mississippi River, including Tunica in the Arkansas-Tennessee corner, were down 12.8 percent from 2008 and 5 percent from last year.

In Louisiana, the 13 riverboat casinos, Harrah’s downtown New Orleans casino and the four race track casinos, for the first three quarters of 2010, recorded a 7.7 percent drop in gambling revenue from the first nine months of 2008. The 2010 tally was down 5.3 percent from 2009.

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