By The Greenwood Commonwealth
The Picayune Item
Twenty years after Mississippi opened its first legalized casino, the industry already may have achieved its maturity.
Casino revenues, which peaked in 2007 at $2.8 billion, have leveled off at around $2.2 billion to $2.3 billion annually. The state and local governments’ 12 percent slice of that revenue has fallen accordingly.
Some of the causes of the decline are admittedly not permanent. When the Great Recession first hit in 2007, legalized gaming, as with a lot of other discretionary consumer spending, took a blow.
Coupled with that, Mississippi’s casino revenues, just as they were rebounding from the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, were plagued by more disasters. The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 again drove tourists away from the Gulf, and record flooding in 2011 resulted in the extended closing of several casinos along the Mississippi River.
But even with a break from outside calamities and a rebound in the economy, it’s doubtful that Mississippi will ever regain its stature as the No. 3 gaming destination in America. A hurdle that is not temporary is the explosion of legalized gaming throughout the country, including in major population centers. Gaming patrons simply don’t have to travel very far to find a casino these days. For instance, as The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson reported Sunday in a series of articles on the state’s gaming industry, Oklahoma used to be a major draw for Mississippi’s casinos. That state now has 92 gaming facilities of its own.
Even by adding new amenities, it’s going to be tough for Mississippi to reclaim the marketing reach it once enjoyed. More likely, there will be a winnowing in coming years, with only the best operators of the 30 state-regulated and three Choctaw casinos surviving. Also, a greater percentage of patrons is going to come from in-state, which was not exactly the rationale when Mississippi got into the business in 1992.
As long as the bulk of those losing money at the slot machines and card tables was from out-of-state, the economic pros of legalized gaming outweighed the societal cons. The tradeoff for Mississippi is not quite as good these days.