More casinos close in Mississippi

All of Mississippi’s 19 dockside casinos on the Mississippi River likely will be closed within a few days because of flooding — at the cost of millions of dollars to tax coffers and temporary unemployment for thousands of casino employees, a state gambling regulator said Tuesday.

Doors were closed Monday at one of the five Vicksburg casinos, bringing the number of river gambling venues shuttered by high water to 15, said Allen Godfrey, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Authorities were monitoring the other Vicksburg outlets. A fourth casino at Vicksburg has been closed for some time for remodeling.

“If the river crests as predicted, they will be forced to close,” Godfrey said.

Record high river levels already have closed nine casinos in Tunica, three in Greenville, one at Lula and one at Natchez.

In the meantime, a total shutdown of Mississippi River gambling will cost governments about $12 million to $13 million in taxes per month. That tally doesn’t count local sales taxes charged on such services as the 6,700-plus casino hotel rooms on the river and the temporary loss of income for about 13,000 employees who work the riverfront casinos, Godfrey said.

Although the river crested Tuesday at Memphis, Tenn., Godfrey said it was far too soon to predict when the casinos might start reopening, likely beginning with Tunica.

“There’s a lot of cleanup that will have to be done before they can reopen,” Godfrey said.

In the case of all casino closures, money is removed from slot machines and the cash is taken to secure locations. Godfrey said that once a casino is cleared for reopening, such as after a hurricane, it generally takes about 12 hours to bring in the money, check accounting and security controls and restart the games.

Farther south in Louisiana, home to 13 riverboat casinos, only two are on the Mississippi River, while a third is being planned on the river — all in the Baton Rouge area. Lana Tramonee, first assistant to Louisiana Gaming Control Board chairman Dane Morgan, said regulators are monitoring the river’s level, but haven’t decided yet whether closures will be necessary.

The 11 casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are far from the river and continued operations as usual.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

The Associated Press