December 22, 2011 4:46:00 PM
By JEFF AMY
JACKSON -- November has been a bad month for Mississippi casinos in recent years, but last month plumbed new lows.
Excluding the period immediately after 2005's Hurricane Katrina, it was the worst month for the state's 11 Gulf Coast casinos in almost 11 years. Excluding May and June, when the state's 19 river casinos were harmed by flooding, it was their worst month since 1996.
The state's casinos won $165.8 million from gamblers in November, down nearly 8 percent from $179.6 million in 2010's same month.
The 19 river casinos won $84.7 million, down 10 percent from $93.9 million in November 2010, according to Mississippi Department of Revenue figures. Winnings at the 11 coast casinos totaled $81.1 million, down 5 percent from $85.6 million the previous November.
River casino winnings are down 12 percent through the first 11 months of the year. That partly reflects the heavy impact of flooding in May and June in that region. Gulf casino winnings are now down 1 percent for the year, with a poor second half of 2011 wiping out gains from earlier. Statewide, gross revenue is down 7 percent for the year, to $2.05 billion.
"I don't think there's any hiding or glossing over the fact that 2011 has not been a good year for casinos," said Scott King, director of research for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Business Council. Casinos along the coast, in particular, had been showing signs of recovery in late 2010 and early 2011, but that momentum has dissipated.
King said two racetrack casinos in Arkansas are growing rapidly, and that may be contributing to revenue declines at casinos in Tunica and Greenville.
"There are players from Arkansas who might gamble there out of convenience," he said.
But the more important factor is a weak national economy, King said. He noted that casino revenue fell 4 percent in Louisiana in November, although it did rise 8 percent in Nevada in October. Revenues cratered in August along with national measures of consumer confidence, following the congressional standoff over increasing the national debt limit.
"To state the obvious, the economic landscape is still not real favorable," King said. He said that consumers are still watching discretionary spending on things like casinos, and said gambling might have lost the competition for limited household budgets to Christmas gift-buying in November.
Mississippi's casinos are on track for the fourth straight year of declining revenue since the all-time high in 2007 of $2.89 billion. The state had projected that gambling taxes would grow 2.1 percent to $150 million for the budget year that began in July. Though gambling revenues are closely watched, they are a small slice of the state's more than $4 billion in revenue.
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