Casino Revenues Are Up, But Visitor Counts Are Down

A gaming commission report says fewer people are visiting casinos since the hurricane. So, you'd expect casinos revenues to be down. However, in this case, fewer people -- with a bit more money in their pockets -- add up to record revenue totals. The question is how much longer casinos can capitalize on a limited tourism base.

Jim Miller has seen several smiles in the 14 months since Boomtown reopened.

"Like I said, our business here has been pretty steady. It's been pretty good," he said while working in a blackjack pit.

What hasn't been seen on a regular basis at Boomtown, or the other 10 coast casinos, are the huge crowds that once jammed onto gaming floors. And the reason for that could be found on the Mississippi Gaming Commission website. In the spring of 2005, just under six million people visited coast casinos. This spring, that number dropped considerably, to just four million gamblers.

Analyst Bernie Burkholder thinks some of the missing gamblers were replaced by people in the construction industry.

"That is a stable component that is going to be there," said Burkholder. "And people in the gaming industry that recognize that and niche market to it, they're going to be fine."

Chett Harrison thinks his casino fits that description.

"There's a lot less reasons for people to visit as they did in the past. However, there's a lot more money available in the market," he noted.

One reason for the extra money is because of salaries. Harrison's employees are getting 15 percent more in their paychecks than they did before the hurricane. Other merchants across the coast have done the same thing to lure and keep their workers. So people have a bit more to spend if they go out and gamble after work. Plus, industry execs say there's an assumption that more than a few hurricane victims have used part of their insurance proceeds to entertain themselves.

However, those same casino execs know they can't count on that money much longer.

"That train has left the tracks," is how Burkholder described the situation.

To find new revenue streams, casino administrators say they need new hotels to be built, and new airlines to fly to the coast.  They say that will entice tourists to gamble on Mississippi again.

"We think there's a lot of growth left in the market," said Harrison.

In July, coast casinos had their best month ever. Most industry insiders expect the August total to be significantly lower. August revenues should be released in a week.