Economy Hurting, But Coast Casinos Surviving

Ronnie Waugh and his wife, Randi, drove in from Montgomery, Alabama for a weekend at Biloxi casinos. There's one big reason they chose the coast for vacation.

"Close range," Ronnie said. "I told my wife tonight, if we couldn't drive, we wouldn't go."

"I'm just a little leery," Randi said. "I'm afraid to fly anyway, but right now, I'd just rather drive."

Casino executives say the fact that the coast gaming market depends so heavily on drive in visitors insulated them from the effects of the September 11th attacks.

"The American people now seem to be taking shorter vacations, which leaves us as really a good destination point," said Duncan McKenzie from the Gulf Coast Gaming Association. "We've got a great drive in market here."

"The week after September 11th, I talked to friends and colleagues in both Las Vegas and Atlantic City...both were down tremendously," said casino General Manager Keith Crosby. "40 percent occupancies, gaming numbers way off. At the same time, we seem to be very resilient."

But casino executives know that if the economy suffers for a long time, the coast gaming industry will be impacted negatively.

We're certainly looking forward to the government's tax incentives to help spur the U.S. economy and we're going to wait and see," McKenzie said.

"I think everybody's confident that we'll be able to work through this and we just have to keep our heads up and keep going," Crosby said.

Since the attacks, casino executives say they've been working harder and spending more money on promotions around the region. They're optimistic that continued hard work will help them survive whatever the future brings.

Casino executives say another reason for the increase in the September numbers is that the casinos were doing very well at the beginning of the month, before the attacks happened.