Casino executives discuss industry challenges at gaming summit

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - New casino investments, the impact of Internet gaming and attracting a new generation of casino customers. Those were among the issues of concern at the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi.

Hundreds of casino industry representatives spent the past three days learning and sharing during panel discussions and keynote speakers.

An industry consultant says the $100 million invested at Golden Nugget may be a lot for the Coast, but overall, the upgrades to this market are considered modest.

"You're not going to have a game changer with a $30 million or a $50 million or a $100 million investment. To have a game changer, you're going to have to put up something Beau Rivage like or even Hard Rock like that will draw people to the market, and the market just might not be there," said gaming consultant Frank Fantini.

The Chief Operating Officer at Treasure Bay says keeping qualified staff is among the biggest challenges. While nearly 40 percent of the staff has been there for 10 years or more, Susan Varnes says they're not the problem.

"It's the other percent that we're finding a lot of turnover, particularly in the table games and food and beverage area. I think that increased competition across the nation in the gaming market is pulling people but also even in our own market," said Varnes.

One issue that came up repeatedly throughout this summit was the challenge casinos face in attracting younger customers; reaching beyond the baby boomers.

"I think the industry broadly needs to think about how do we get a younger demographic into the buildings? Those folks, the 20 somethings, 30 somethings, even 40 somethings. They're playing social games right now. They're not really seeing the casino product as appealing," said Industry Financial Analyst Joel Simkins.

Attracting a younger demographic goes well with the other hot topic; Internet gaming.

"Obviously there are many who believe, for us to thrive as an industry and meet that next generation, we need to be online," said American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman, during his keynote speech. "It certainly unites these two issues and will certainly be a part of the conversation that the industry needs to have."

On that subject of Internet gaming, the Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission is leading a task force to consider the potential impact of both online gaming and sports betting.

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