In 2013, the 30 Mississippi casinos collected $2.136 billion in gross gaming revenue, which is money leftover after players’ winnings are subtracted from wagers. That’s the lowest since 1997 when 24 casinos collected $1.984 billion. The high mark for revenue was $2.891 billion in 2007. The 2013 total represents a 5.1 percent drop from the $2.251 billion collected in 2012.
Mississippi casino figures have been falling steadily since 2007 as more states legalize gaming in an effort to keep their gaming dollars at home. That competition has hurt the Mississippi River casinos (and especially the Tunica area), which have seen revenue fall from a high of $1.589 billion in 2007 to $1.072 billion in 2013.
“The state of gaming is competition,” said Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “Even Pennsylvania just had its first down month in the last five or six years.
“But Tunica is fighting a fight and doing everything in their power to combat the competition. I don’t know if it’s going to be enough, but I do know there are some wonderful properties up there with some good places to visit and good restaurants.
“The Lower River Region (south of Greenville) and the Coast area are seeing a lot of capital expenditures to their properties, and that speaks highly for those areas that people are willing to do that.”
Tunica was already feeling a pinch in the spring of 2011 when the Mississippi River flooded, damaging casinos and forcing some to close for months. That’s when Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Ark., expanded its facilities to attract Memphis gamblers who found they didn’t have to drive 30 miles into Mississippi for casino games.
Southland recently announced a $35.7 million expansion that would be completed by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the Gulf Coast, which was once a step-child to the prolific gaming market in Tunica, is poised to pass the river casinos in revenue. Until recent years, it was normal for the River casinos to post revenue numbers that were $200 million to $400 million more than the Gulf Coast. In 2013, that annual margin shrunk to less than $8 million. The Gulf Coast’s total for 2013 was $1.064 billion
Coast casinos outperformed Tunica casinos in each of the last six months of 2013. Previously, that had happened in only six months since 1995.
In December 2013, Gulf Coast revenue was $85.6 million, down from $90.3 million in 2012. The Mississippi River casinos collected $82.7 million, well below the $95.6 million it collected last year.
The December statewide total of $168.3 million is well below the $185.8 million collected last December.
But the Coast is not immune from competition. Casino gaming is expected to be a hot topic among Florida legislators when they meet beginning March 4.
“There’s no telling how that will end up,” said Godfrey. “But if they do expand it, we will feel the impact. Just like we feel the impact from the Poarch Creek Indian casinos in Alabama and the casino in West Memphis.”
In an attempt to persuade out-of-state gamblers to return to Mississippi, the gaming commission earlier this year revamped its requirements for casinos which would force owners to make a commitment before being granted a license.
The commission established minimum requirements for criteria such as square footage, hotel rooms, dining space and parking facilities. But more importantly, it places an emphasis on bringing new amenities to the Mississippi casino market – whether it be a water park or shopping complex – that will attract more families and visitors with something besides gaming.
Revenue figures do not include the Choctaw’s Pearl River Resort casinos in Philadelphia, which are not regulated by the gaming commission.