Mississippi and Louisiana casinos feel economic pinch

New Orleans – A sluggish economy and record gasoline prices are keeping travelers closer to home and off the gambling floor at Southern casinos, an industry analyst said last week.

Mississippi’s state-licensed casinos saw a 19.4 percent drop in winnings from March to April, while Louisiana’s state-licensed casinos recorded a 7.2 percent drop, according to state regulatory agencies.

Both months traditionally are big ones for casinos, as income tax refund checks are issued.

Mississippi and Louisiana seem to be following a national pattern, said Andy Holtmann, editor of the Las Vegas-based Casino Journal, a trade journal.

„The economy, gas prices, job losses are why you are seeing diminished results,“ Holtmann said.

Casinos in states such as Louisiana and Mississippi, which depend heavily on drive-in gamblers, are probably the most vulnerable, though the same sag in revenue is beginning to hit fly-in markets such as Las Vegas, Holtmann said.

„It’s not crippling“ Holtmann said. „Most of the pundits and analysts think there will be no long-term damage. But for now, it’s getting tighter.“

Louisiana’s 13 riverboat casinos, Harrah’s New Orleans land casino and the four slot machine casinos at horse racing tracks took in USD 213.1 million last month, down from USD 229.6 million in March, but still up a bit from USD 205 million in April 2007. However, there were two fewer gambling outlets open a year ago.

In Mississippi, the tally from players who ventured into that state’s 29 casinos fell from USD 260.6 million in March to USD 210.1 million in April.

Holtmann said Mississippi casinos probably are being hit by four Seminole tribal casinos that opened in Florida. „That’s taking a small chunk from Biloxi, but it can be replaced,“ Holtmann said.

Mississippi coastal casinos saw a drop in winnings from USD 120.8 million in March to USD 97.1 million in April.

Louisiana markets that are heavily dependent upon Texas gamblers – Shreveport-Bossier City and Lake Charles – saw March-to-April dips in winnings. Shreveport-Bossier City casinos won USD 69.1 million in April, down from USD 73.3 million in March, while the Lake Charles market won USD 53.4 million last month, a drop from USD 58.6 million in March.

New Orleans, a mix of the Harrah’s casino in the tourist district and two riverboats that cater to local gamblers, won USD 59.4 million in April, dipping from USD 64.8 million in March. The two riverboats in Baton Rouge, considered to be a local market, saw their combined winnings go from USD 19.2 million to USD 18.3 million.

The two states‘ figures do not include Indian reservation casinos, which are not required to report their winnings to the public.