Casino executives look for promising 2011

By The Associated Press

BILOXI — The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is traditionally a busy one for the casino industry.

Along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, casino executives tell WLOX-TV in Biloxi that they hope the holiday season helps set the pace for an upbeat 2011 after the negative impacts of the national economy and the BP oil spill in 2010.

“Everybody is off work, visiting family. They have a little extra Christmas cash in their pockets. Typically a pretty good week for the casino world,” said Chris Kern, Hard Rock Casino Biloxi’s marketing director.

Kern said predictions for the new year are generally positive. He said 2010 will be remembered as a year of challenges.

“We were kind of hoping the economic recession would lift a little bit, and we were hopeful coming into the summer. Then, of course, we had the oil spill in the Gulf, which obviously kept a lot of tourists away, particularly during those critical summer months,” Kern said.

At Boomtown Casino, marketing director Sunita Sailor says “we’re here catering to the locals that live here and work here.”

That local reputation Boomtown Casino caters to may help explain why that property didn’t experience a serious drop in business during the oil spill.

“Well, we don’t have a hotel. And so I think most of our customers come locally and were staying informed about what was going on. And we were just hoping for the best,” said Sailor.

As the New Year begins, an expansion plan at the Palace casino is well under way. The Palace will expand the gaming area, improve the hotel facilities and add restaurant and retail space.

“The casino industry has historically been a little resilient when it comes to recessions. It took a little while, but it certainly got to us. And we certainly felt the pinch this year,” said Kern.

The promise of a new year brings predictions of an ongoing turnaround.

“I would definitely say that we’re optimistic and upbeat going into 2011. We hope the residual effects of getting those tourists back to the coast after the oil spill are going to continue in 2011,” he said.

December casino revenues will be reported in late January.

In November, Mississippi’s state-licensed casinos reported revenue of $179.6 million, down about $6.8 million from the same month last year.

The Department of Revenue reported the 11 South Mississippi casinos won $85.6 million in November, down $2.4 million from October and off $1.6 million from the same month in 2009.

For the 19 casinos on the Mississippi River that stretch from Natchez to Tunica, revenue was about $9.5 million less than October at $94 million. In November 2009, the river casinos took in $98.2 million.