Casinos Look At 2001 Crystal Ball

Analysts say coast casinos may need a little of Merlin's magic if they're going to roll in the dough in 2001.  In fact, according to Boomtown's general manager Neil Narter, "Casinos won't make as much money as they did in the past."

Narter understands the bottom line. Empty slot machines don't make money. So just like all coast casinos, his company will spend more money in 2001 to attract new gamblers to their machines.

"Who will really benefit from this," he said, "is the tourists and the locals, because the casinos do more promotion and more activities, there is going to be more for them to choose from and better offers and better promotions and better deals."

In terms of revenue, 2000 was a record year for the coast casino industry. Successful marketing campaigns and added jet service bolstered business.  Isle of Capri marketing executive Rich Westfall believes that "now that we have grown that far, it's going to be hard to get over that. But we'll see some consistent growth as we get better in marketing."

Part of the 2001 marketing effort focuses on amenities. That's why Beau Rivage is spending $8 million to expand its buffet. Other casinos offer free meals, and a variety of other comps to recruit players. The freebies cost casinos more money than ever before. But executives say it's a cost they have to pay to stay competitive.

According to Narter, "Everybody is going to benefit but the corporate comptroller, who will be sitting there looking at a smaller profit margin." But gaming officials say that's how it has to be if coast casinos are going to make a little magic in 2001.

One of the casino industry's first expenses in 2001 is a joint marketing campaign. This month, ads are running in Houston and Tampa. They remind people that the coast is a great winter getaway. The convention and visitors bureau, the airport authority, and local governments also chipped in money for the new ads.