Gaming Revenue Up Slightly

Mississippi casinos won $2.7 billion from gamblers in 2001, an amount that industry observers say bodes well considering an epidemic of layoffs in the state and the Sept. 11 attacks. Gross revenue at the 30 state-regulated casinos rose 2 percent last year, up from $2.65 billion in 2000, according to new figures from the Mississippi State Tax Commission. ``Operators in Mississippi have come through a rather difficult year and managed to bring their costs in line with revenue expectations,'' said Eric Hausler, an analyst with Bear Stearns in New York. ``It's not a bad overall performance considering the regional economy and Sept. 11,'' he said.

The 2 percent growth was in line with Bear Stearns' expectations, Hausler said. Annual revenue rose 5 percent in 2000 and a whopping 16 percent in 1999, when the lavish, 1,800-room Beau Rivage casino-resort opened in Biloxi and other casinos added amenities. Brian Richard, senior research analyst with the Mississippi Gaming Association, said the trade organization predicts growth this year anywhere from 2 percent to 5 percent depending on economic conditions. Mississippi was clobbered with more than 50 plant closings last year that eliminated some 8,500 jobs, a disturbing trend that has continued into 2002. State economist Phil Pepper told lawmakers last week that Mississippi should start pulling out of a slump in the coming months. ``If the economy improves, we're optimistic about 2002,'' Richard said. ``This is an industry that responds well to economic recovery.'' The 2001 win total got a big year-over-year boost in December. Revenue was up 17 percent at the 12 casinos on the Gulf Coast and 13 percent at the 18 gambling houses along the Mississippi River in Tunica, Lula, Greenville, Vicksburg and Natchez. Unusually cold weather and ice storms in north Mississippi chilled business significantly in December 2000.

Mississippi ranks third nationally in casino revenue behind Nevada and New Jersey. New Jersey casinos won $4.3 billion in 2001, less than 1 percent above the previous year and that state's 23rd straight year to post an increase. Year-end figures for Nevada were not available Tuesday. Las Vegas continues to rebound from a severe drop-off in business related to the terrorist attacks and sluggish airline travel.

Conversely, the number of people playing slots and throwing dice in Mississippi returned to somewhat normal levels soon after the attacks. The primary reason: most patrons live within a few hundred miles of the state's casinos and travel by auto.