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Beau Rivage Resort & Casino shadows MGM Park where the Biloxi Shuckers compete in the Southern League. The park was completed in summer of 2015.

Casino properties add amenities to stay competitive in tourism industry

By LISA MONTI

In its latest annual report on the state’s casino industry, officials with the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association acknowledged the good and the bad for state casinos during 2015.

The industry “drives tens of millions of visitors to our state each year, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue for our state, employs thousands of great folks to work at our businesses, provides vitality for the companies who do business here in our state, spends millions of dollars to promote our businesses and increase the quality of our facilities, and is responsible for thousands of hours being continued to the volunteer efforts in the community in which we work and live,” wrote Lee Dillard, MGHA chairman, in the report.

But the industry continues to face economic challenges, including two casinos leaving the state in 2014, followed by a third in 2015.

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Dillard noted in his summary there was a small uptick in revenue for the state’s casinos.  “Year to date through October statewide gaming revenues have increased 1.5 percent over 2014 led by the Coast which has grown at a 6 percent pace,” he said. “In fact two of the three regions have positive year-over-year growth.”

The report highlighted major developments during 2015, which marked the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Silver Slipper in Hancock County opened its 129-room hotel which features several suites. In Gulfport, Island View Casino opened its Beach Tower after a $60 million renovation project. The tower, closed since Katrina, features 405 rooms, restaurants, meeting space and other amenities.

As part of its ongoing capital improvements, Boyd Gaming invested more than $70 million to upgrade the IP Casino Resort Spa in Biloxi. Another Biloxi property, Boom Town, cut the ribbon on its new RV park in 2015.  MGM Park opened in June 2015 across the street from Beau Rivage. It’s home to the Biloxi Shuckers, a AA minor league baseball team that got off to a successful start in their new home stadium.

The year 2015 closed out on a high note, with the opening of the Scarlet Pearl Casino, the first casino resort in the city of D’Iberville. The 18-story, all glass hotel tower has 300 rooms. The resort also has an event center, four dining venues and a 36-hole miniature golf course. The casino has more than 1,300 slot machines, 45 table games and a poker room.

According to the report, in 2015 the economic direct and indirect impact of gaming was nearly $4.4 billion. Mississippi casino operators reported a $2.117 billion in gaming revenue casinos and generated’s $758 million in non-gaming revenues. Gulf Coast casinos had $1.154 billion in gaming revenue and River casinos produced $963.5 million in gaming revenue

The report said the Coast’s 12 casinos had gross revenue of approximately $1.6 billion in 2015 compared to $1.5 billion in 2014. Visits to those casinos were down in 2015, approximately 13 million compared to 14 million in 2014.

Looking to 2016, Dillard said there are still hurtles to overcome to gain revenue “not only from other states but also from other entertainment venues as we all battle for discretionary spending from consumers.”

Dillard described 2015 as a year of robust capital investment. “Looking forward to 2016, there continues to be a high level of interest in investing in the vibrant Mississippi gaming in tourism market.”

At least one major development was made known in early 2016, when developer Robert Lubin announced plans to invest $140 million in a casino at Gulfport’s harbor adjacent to Jones Park. It’s a spot south of U.S. 90 that’s been involved in past plans that never came together. The city selected Lubin’s proposal over two others, according to published reports. Rubin’s Virginia-based law firm is representing Mississippi Coast Entertainment.

Rubin will need to negotiate a lease with the city to move the project forward by late 2016 and if things go as planned, the casino could open for business the following year, giving Gulfport its second casino resort. The new property would have a 300-room hotel.

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