July 17, 2008

Biloxi Coffers Bulge From Casino Revenue: June Jumped $11M From ’07

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

Jul. 17--BILOXI -- Casino revenues tanked in most cities across the country but Biloxi smashed its June record, jumping almost $11 million above June 2007.

Biloxi's report of $91.6 million in gross casino revenue for June comes ahead of the Mississippi State Tax Commission releasing its figures within the next week for the combined revenues of the Coast, river and state casinos.

Biloxi casinos are offering strong incentives to attract customers. "They're spending more money to get people here," said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, "but they're getting the people here." He thinks the slow economy may be helping Biloxi because people are taking shorter trips.

City Director of Administration David Staehling said visitors are coming to Biloxi because it's less expensive than other casino destinations. "There's more to do," such as golf and fishing, "and it's affordable," he said of the golf and other amenities. "Conditions are very favorable for us to grow."

These casino revenues should continue to climb in Biloxi, with Margaritaville Casino under construction and other casino developments in the wings, city officials said.

Although the schedule at Margaritaville Casino has slowed, presumably to save on weekend overtime charges, said Holloway, the nearly $1 billion resort is still expected to open in 2010. Community Development Director Jerry Creel said the developers last week pulled nearly $13 million in mechanical and plumbing permits.

Isle of Capri has also started getting permits for its $140 million expansion and Holloway said the Isle bought all the land around Myrtle and Cadet streets.

Harrah's has purchased 80 acres in East Biloxi and Holloway said, "I don't know what they plan to do with all that land." Boomtown and IP casinos have also purchased large parcels of land around the Back Bay since Hurricane Katrina.

"I'm hoping Boomtown will put in a hotel," Holloway said, especially now that the company received millions of dollars in payments when the sale of its parent company, Penn National Gaming, fell through. The company also has access to a $1.4 billion hedge-fund loan, "so they have some cash to do something," said Holloway.

The mayor has hopes for casino development at the Broadwater site and possibly other areas if the South Beach Casino is approved. Although the Golden Nugget Casino proposed for Point Cadet after Hurricane Katrina didn't materialize, Holloway said the city owns the International Plaza. The Department of Interior turned it over to the city with the stipulation that if the site is used for commercial purposes, an equal amount of land would be donated for public use nearby.

"It's a prime piece of property worth a lot, a lot of money. I envision a casino there," said Holloway. "That's what it's zoned for."


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