Gaming insiders say worst is over, but recovery for MS not soon - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

Gaming insiders say worst is over, but recovery for MS not soon

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Some of the gaming industry's heavy hitters say while Mississippi's casino market continues to struggle, the good news is that the worst seems to be over. Wednesday, a panel of casino executives spoke at the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi.

"Hurricanes and now oil slicks," said Paul Alanis, Silver Slipper Gaming CEO "We don't have locusts yet to worry about, but you never know."

Plagued by falling gaming revenues month after month, casino executives at the this year's Southern Gaming Summit don't see a full economic recovery coming anytime soon.

"I think what we're seeing is customers continue to come as frequently, but they're just spending less per trip," said F. Scott Barbour, the Mid-South Regional President of Harrah's Entertainment.

"As you look at those economic indicators with high unemployment rates and high foreclosure rates, we seem to be the last to get in the recession from a reaction-response standpoint," Barbour said. "I think we're going to be the last to get back out of it."

Industry insiders also don't expect any new players to come in new developments right now. The reasons are that credit is tight, competition in the region is growing, and government incentives are drying up.

"The governments are so needy in terms of their revenues that they're basically squeezing all of the juice out of the lemon," said Alanis. "It makes the deals for companies and developers such as myself very thin and very expensive as far as entering new markets."

The way the executives see it, the coast casinos need to grow their customer base to rebound. That will take help from outside the industry.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. President Virginia McDowell said, "The problem with Biloxi in particular right now is it's becoming a pure play gaming destination. Because without any of the no-gaming amenities that existed pre-Katrina, most folks that are coming here are coming here for the casinos."

"When you talk about marketing it as a destination resort that also includes gaming, it becomes very difficult at this point," McDowell said. "So those of us that are operating in this market are marketing to the same customer base. I don't see that changing. I don't know where the growth would come from other than to sit there and cannibalize the existing operators."

However, McDowell said there is good news in the industry.

"It's not going to get any worse. That the light at the end of the tunnel is actually light and not an on coming train. For a couple of years it was."

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