NATCHEZ — Three months after Natchez’s second casino began play, gaming revenue is up in the city, but insiders warn it’s too early to bet on the increase holding or folding.
Natchez gaming revenues for December, January and February increased over the same months last year. The Natchez Democrat reports figures from the Natchez City Clerk’s office show the biggest increase coming in January.
Total gaming revenue was approximately $3.7 million in January, an approximately $1.3-million increase over January 2012’s approximately $2.4 million take.
After nearly 20 years of being a one-casino city with the Isle of Capri Casino having a lock on the market, Magnolia Bluffs Casino opened on Dec. 18.
The new casino, even though only in operation for a portion of December, appears to have impacted revenue.
In a separate item, since taking over as general manager of the Isle of Capri Casino in January, Dick Stewart has been focusing his efforts on polishing the casino.
Stewart replaced Tony Scudiero as general manager in mid-January, and Stewart said he and his team have first been ensuring the casino is at the highest possible standard of cleanliness.
“If you drive by, you’ll notice we’re replacing the railing on the second level,” he said. “We’re working on anything that’s obviously been left out of preventive maintenance and upkeep. We’ve been going through the boat and around the boat and making the appropriate repairs, refreshing everything and cleaning it up.”
Since Magnolia Bluffs Casino opened in December, Stewart said, the local gambling market has split, and the Isle has seen a drop in revenue.
“Our plans are to maintain our market share in revenue, and we’ll market depending on the level required,” Stewart said. “When you go in and split a small market like this, obviously there is going to be a revenue shift. My focus is making sure our employees are protected and their jobs are protected.”
It is too early to tell, Stewart said, how exactly the market will be split between the two casinos because business has not had time to level out since Magnolia Bluffs opened.
But Stewart said his focus has been on his team of employees.
“This is a seasoned team of people that have not only been working at this property, but have lived in the market for sometimes generations,” Stewart said. “It’s great to be working with a group of people who are so dedicated to what they’re doing.
“They’re a great team, and they do a good job, and if you’ve got that, you have a great start to being successful.”
The Isle is also in midst of working to open a Otis & Henry’s Bar and Grill in the former Natchez Landing restaurant on Silver Street near where the casino is docked. Stewart said. The restaurant brand is specific to the Isle, he said, and is found at several Isle casinos.
“We’re working through the details of getting that open, and we’re hoping to add that to the roster of local restaurants here,” Stewart said.
The restaurant would serve everything from steaks to hamburgers, Stewart said, and be open five days a week and for lunch and dinner on the weekends.
Stewart relocated to Natchez from St. Louis with his wife, Creda. The couple has five grown children, who live from New York to Reno, Nev.
Creda was formerly the public information officer for the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Stewart said, and has been named one of the top 10 businesswomen in Mississippi multiple times.
Before joining the Isle of Capri, Stewart worked at a number of casinos in his career, including a stint as the vice president of resort operations and director of marketing at the Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia.
Stewart has been with the Isle of Capri since 2005 and served most recently as the corporate vice president of property marketing. Stewart said he jumped at the opportunity to come to Natchez.
“I love Natchez,” he said “I’m really familiar with it, and my wife loves Mississippi, so we’re happy to be here.”
The casino opened in 1993 under the Lady Luck brand. It was acquired by Isle of Capri in 2000, along with Lady Luck’s Lula property. The Lady Luck recently took over the Rainbow Casino in Vicksburg.
Mississippi has 30 state-regulated casinos along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians operates two casinos not under state regulation.