Once a month, a chartered bus brings 50 Montgomery, Alabama residents to Biloxi for an afternoon of gambling. The leader of the group is Bruno Varducci. "We're just a bunch of senior citizens who are on one of our trips," he said. "I'm not one of the big spenders. But I hope I'm one of the big winners."
The Montgomery group came by bus. Henry Hogard came by RV. This was the Ontario native's first trip to Biloxi's Casino Row. "We've been in Florida for two months and we're on our way home," the Canadian said. "So we were told that this is a good place. Everybody wins here."
When asked how long Hogard and his wife plan on staying in Biloxi, he smiled and said, "It depends on our luck."
Talk with coast casino executives like Keith Crosby and they'll tell you they feel pretty lucky. You see, because the nation's economy slowed down, people thought the winter would be a slow time for Mississippi casinos. But a cooperative marketing campaign between the casinos, the airport and Harrison County Tourism attracted just enough gamblers to these tables.
According to Crosby, "There's no question that when you increase your marketing expenses, you're going to erode your margins to some degree." Then he put a positive spin on winter revenues by saying, "I don't think it's been eroded that badly."
Mississippi State Tax Commission records indicate that in February, casinos made $94.9 million. That was a less than one percent drop from a year ago. But once the weather warms up, casino executives expect their revenue totals to go up again.
Despite the tight economy, three coast casinos are moving ahead with expansion plans. Grand Casino Biloxi is building a new parking garage. Grand Casino Gulfport is putting up an entertainment pavilion. And Casino Magic Bay St. Louis is building a new hotel.