Most U-S states now have some kind of gaming. That’s a big change since casinos first came to Mississippi 23 years ago. As MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, adjusting to that change is on the minds of many at the Southern Gaming Summit this week on the Gulf Coast.
When the first casino opened in Biloxi in 1992, only a small number of other states had legalized gaming. Now 40 states have commercial or tribal casinos. Andrew Smith, research director for the American Gaming Association, says that means, in many places, the competitive environment has “ratcheted up considerably.”
"In that environment, you can no longer have tax rates or regulatory policies that are so burdensome to the operator that they can't afford to re-invest, grow, innovate and invest in things like capital expenditures on non-gaming amenities," he says.
Smith says New Jersey, for example, is offering fast-track approvals of some gaming equipment. In Mississippi, House Gaming Committee Chair Richard Bennett says he’d like to see casinos offered the same incentives as other industries are given.
"If you're going in here and investing $40 million in a renovation of a hotel, I htink you deserve the same tax breaks someone in Jackson is getting for renovations of a $40 million hotel there," he says. "It's an investment in the community, and it's an investment in the community down here. I think they deserve the same breaks. It's only fair."
Gaming revenues were up 6 percent on the Gulf Coast during the first quarter of this year, Mississippi Coast casino revenues were up 6 percent in the first quarte of this year, and industry officials are hopeful new developments will continue that growth during the rest of 2015.
But the picture in the rest of the state is mixed, especially in the north, which saw the closure of Harrah's in Tunica last year. Allen Godfrey is director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
"Our central river region is about flat," Godfrey says. "Our northern region is down about 11 percent, but I say that cautiously because we also closed the largest casino between Las Vegas and Atlantic City last year. So if you look at those numbers and add those back, we're not doing that bad."
Overall, Mississippi gaming revenues were down 1 percent in the first quarter.
Internet gaming is only legal in three states so far, and it seems unlikely that Mississippi will join those ranks any time soon. That’s according to the Mississippi House Gaming Committee chair Bennett, who commissioned a study on internet gaming last year.
He says states that have legalized online gaming aren’t seeing the returns they expected.
"It's generating about 15 percent of what they are predicting," he says. "They were predicting a billion-dollar industry, and it's just a few million dollars. It's not the success story they expected."
Bennett says the pool of people who would feasibly be able to play online in Mississippi – due to issues of access to the internet, for example – is too small to make it successful here in the near future.