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Facing Sliding Revenues, Mississippi Says New Casinos Must Up The Ante

By Evelina Burnett | Published 08 May 2014 09:11pm | comments

Increased competition and a lackluster economy have stalled Mississippi gaming revenues. MPB’s Evelina Burnett finds out what the state is doing to jumpstart growth again.

Tilman Fertitta bought the old Isle of Capri casino in Biloxi in 2012 and renamed it the Golden Nugget. Last week, after $100 million in renovations, he cut the ribbon on the re-done casino, just in time for this week’s Southern Gaming Summit, where he was the keynote speaker.

"I have deep roots in Mississippi, and I saw an opportunity to buy this property here and convert it to a great property," he says. "It's a great opportunity to be here and to bring the Golden Nugget name to the Gulf Coast, and I think it's going to be great for us."

He adds: "Are there challenges? Yes, there are challenges, but the best survive, and hopefully we'll do our job and people will want to come see us."

Among the challenges: the gaming market in Mississippi has been steadily declining, with annual revenues last year down 26 percent from where they were in 2007.

"I do think revenues are going to stay flat," he says. "What you don't like is when you come in and the only way to grow is by stealing business from somebody else. Hopefully, with our name, because we are a national brand, we can bring a few people from other places that didn't come before, and so hopefully we can build our business by bringing new people to help grow gaming revenue instead of just taking it from everybody else."

Fertitta suggests Mississippi should stop allowing new properties for a while, to let the market shake itself out. House Gaming Committee Chair Richard Bennett says it’s unlikely the state will limit the number of casinos, but last year, it did up the ante for new projects.

"You have to have a much bigger investment. You have to have an amenity that is not tied to gaming," he said. "So, we'll see what kind of amenities the casino will come with. If you bring something that can grow the market, absolutely you can come to the state of Mississippi. But it has to be something unique and something that can grow the market."

New casinos must now also have a hotel with a minimum of 300 rooms. 

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