Revenues declining

America's Gulf Coast region land casinos continued to battle with the effects of the recession through March 2009, suffering a 16 percent drop in revenues compared to March 2008, according to local media reports and official statistics.

The Sun Herald Biloxi quoted Silver Slipper Casino General Manager John Ferrucci as saying: "It's really just a sign of the times. All the operators pretty much saw it coming." But he added that he remains optimistic. "We're already seeing some increase in April that we didn't see in March. We are still real bullish on the Gulf Coast market."

The 11 Coast casinos won $101.8 million in March, which was $19 million less than in March 2008, when the casinos won $120.8 million, the Sun Herald reports. River counties casinos dropped by $8.6 million year-over-year, making Mississippi's total casino gross gaming revenue down 10.6 percent compared to last March.

The figures have been verified by the Mississippi State Tax Commission, and Bobby Moak, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, said the only bright spot in the report issued Monday is that Mississippi is faring better than other gambling centres in the US like Las Vegas and New Jersey. Moak said the state Legislature is adjusting the 2010 budget to reflect the decrease in casino tax and other revenue.

Mississippi Gaming Commission Chairman Jerry St. Pe said while the market still faces serious challenges, several of the large casino corporate representatives who attended last week's meeting said Mississippi continues to be among their more favourable places to do business in the country.

Part of the March shortfall was because there were five weekends last March compared to four this year.

"The casinos make a majority of their money Friday, Saturday and Sunday," said Scott King, director of research and policy for the Gulf Coast Business Council.

He said quarterly trends give a more accurate picture than month to month reports. For the first quarter, the Coast revenues were down $40 million from last year. He said other jurisdictions began feeling the impact of the national economy before the Coast and he expects similar numbers to be posted for the next few months before the eagerly awaited turnaround comes.

Mississippi Gaming Commission Executive Director Larry Gregory pointed out that March last year had been 'huge', resulting in a record March month on the Coast. "That was one of our best months in gaming history," he said. This March he thinks Mississippi casinos lost some business to the new slot casino that opened in Alabama.

"The casinos are still marketing heavily," Gregory said. and visitors are still coming to Mississippi, but he said they are spending less at the slot machines.

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