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More golf courses, stock car racing would enhance casinos, people say

If Mississippi casinos build ‘em, will they come?

Casino patrons in Mississippi are better educated, slightly older and make more money than expected, but tourists usually don`t venture past gaming tables when they

visit the state, according to a study by the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning.

“Overall, we were moderately surprised that education and income levels were higher than anticipated, and that casinos were closer in demographics to NASCAR

racing fans and golfers,” said Robert Ingram, assistant to University of Southern Mississippi President Horace Fleming for economic development, and co-author of

the report, “Gaming in the Mississippi Economy: A Marketing, Tourism, and Economic Perspective,” commissioned by the state IHL with $200,000 in funding

approved by the Legislature. Dr. Denise Von Herrmann, assistant professor of political science, and Dr. William C. Smith, assistant dean of the USM College of

Business Administration, also co-authored the report.

“During the year-long intensive study, we heard over and over again that if there`s anything Mississippi could have to draw more people to casinos, it`s more golf

courses and NASCAR-type racing,” Ingram said.

Another surprising fact: tourists from out of state have very little knowledge of Mississippi and rarely venture outside casinos, Ingram said.

“From the responses of exit interviews conducted at casinos throughout Mississippi, tourists simply didn`t know what options were available before they traveled to the

state,” he said. “Of course, the casinos love to keep them in-house and aren`t going to put a whole lot of other tourism information out in front of them.”

The state`s three gaming markets – the Gulf Coast, south river cities and north river cities – are so different and unique that there`s very little crossover from tourists,

Ingram said.

“More than 68% of visitors to the Gulf Coast are from out of market, accounting for more fly-in traffic,” Ingram said. “The south river cities generally draw from the

local population while Tunica is within driving distance of two major markets – Little Rock and Memphis – and can draw from huge population centers by car.”

According to the report, Tunica County, with 10 casinos, outperformed other casino markets and reaped the biggest benefits of legalized dockside gambling. Per

capita retail sales jumped 616%, from $5,204 in the three-year period ending in 1990, to $37,267 in the same period ending in 1997. During the same time periods,

the average wage spiked 72%, from $13,843 to $23,855. “The Gulf Coast and Tunica are very strong destination marketplaces, drawing primarily from outside the

state, bringing new money into Mississippi, with local areas reaping the benefits,” Ingram said.

Overall, more than $3.3 billion in direct gaming taxes have been collected in the eight full fiscal years since the arrival of casinos. In FY2000, casinos paid more than

$320 million in gaming taxes, with revenues expected to hit the $400 million mark by FY2003.

Every year, casino establishments generate at least $2.5 million in room and restaurant taxes. Annual payroll taxes accounts for another $30 million, and tidelands

leases or levee fees add another $9 million.

Direct casino construction has accounted for a 130% increase in the number of hotel rooms on the Gulf Coast since dockside gambling was legalized in 1992. Nearly

two-thirds of the $800 million paid annually to casino employees goes to residents of Mississippi.

“Taken as a whole, the results of this study show that the casino gambling industry and its associated revenues to the state of Mississippi are generally strong and will

continue to grow over the next few years,” said Ingram.

Based on “negative economic and social consequences for the residents of the state,” the report did not recommend raising the current 12% tax rate on gross casino

gaming revenues, of which 8% goes to the state and 4% is funneled to local governments.

“Our research suggests that the net increases in revenue gained from such a tax hike would be lowered substantially by the very real possibility of between six and nine

casino failures,” Ingram said.

The report, which touched on a wide variety of issues associated with Mississippi`s gaming industry, stressed the need for more cooperative marketing and advertising

efforts among state and local tourism agencies to “promote a unified, consistent theme for Mississippi and gaming tourism,” and to “help insulate Mississippi`s gaming

revenues from various threats,” with potential threats identified as recession, natural disasters and the expansion of legal gambling into neighboring states.

“We`ve got to do a better job of targeting where the largest number of visitors are coming from, and advertise in those areas,” Ingram said. “If we expect more people

to come, stay longer and spend money outside the casinos, we`ve got to do a better job of letting them know what else is available to spend money on.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at lynne@thewritingdesk.com or (601) 853-3967.


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About Lynne W. Jeter

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