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Gaming Woes Hit Tourism In North Mississippi
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Twenty-two million visitors traveled to the Magnolia state last year. As MPB'S Evelina Burnett reports, they spent just over $6 billion, but that's about a 3 percent drop from the year before.

That decline is due in large part to the struggles of the casino industry in the northern part of the state, where gaming revenues fell 11 percent last year. One of the biggest losses – the closure of Harrah’s in Tunica.

"It wasn't just the casino that closed in the market. It was 1,300 hotel rooms, a convention center, an 18-hole golf course, RV park, kids quest - a lot of the amenities that we've worked so hard to gain," says Webster Franklin, head of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. Tunica County saw visitor spending fall 17 percent last year.

Gaming and tourism are closely tied in Mississippi. The 7 counties with casinos account for nearly half of the state’s tourism spending, jobs and taxes. Franklin says he’d like to see some state and local incentives for attracting tourism operators to his region.

"It's not just about the gaming revenue," he says. "But we've become very dependent on the taxes that are associated with that, both on a state and a local level. So it's not just a Tunica issue, I'd submit to you - it's a Mississippi issue."

On the coast - the state's biggest tourism market - visitor spending was flat but the number of visitors grew last year. Renee Areng, executive director of Visit Mississippi Gulf Coast, says the coast had 5-point-6 million visitors last year.

"Not huge jumps, but basically the last few years we've had about a 2 percent increase every year in number of travelers into the area," she says. "So in terms of investment, that means we're investing in the right direction and targeting the right travelers."

Areng says this year's growth is forecast at as much as 5 or 6 percent on the coast.