Revenue drop at river casinos outstrips Gulf gain

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News,Business,Gambling,Gulf of Mexico

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos won a bit more from gamblers in February but that increase couldn't overcome bigger revenue declines at casinos along the Mississippi River.

Mississippi Department of Revenue figures show statewide casino revenue to $182 million in February, down fell 3 percent from 2013's second month.

The numbers exclude Choctaw Indian casinos, which aren't required to report winnings to the state. Casino City's Indian Gaming Industry Report, released Wednesday, shows that revenue at Mississippi's three Choctaw Indian casinos declined 6 percent in 2012.

Revenue at commercial casinos statewide is down 3.6 percent over the last 12 months and has fallen in 18 of the last 20 months. Over the last 12 months, Mississippi casinos have collected only about 74 percent of what they collected in the peak revenue year of 2007.

The 12 coastal casinos won $89.4 million, up less than 1 percent from the $89.1 million they won in February 2013. The 18 river casinos won $93 million, down 6 percent from the $99 million they won a year earlier.

Industry leaders have said that along the Mississippi River, Tunica and Lula casinos have suffered from competition from expanding gambling at two racetracks in Arkansas. Some casinos have suffered financial distress, and the industry as a whole has been shedding workers.

Revenues in Arkansas rose almost seven-fold from 2007 to 2013. They rose 5.7 percent to $21.1 million in February 2014 from a year earlier, although that was the second-lowest monthly rate of growth recorded since 2009.

In Louisiana, state-licensed casinos won $209.8 million in February, 1.5 percent more than a year earlier. Revenues were down slightly in the New Orleans area but up in the state's other major gambling markets.

The decline at Mississippi's Indian casinos was the second-largest percentage among the states, with only Connecticut posting a larger decline. In 2011, Mississippi ranked second behind Alabama for fastest growth in revenue, but couldn't keep up while the Poarch Band of Creeks kept growing in Alabama.

The report doesn't disclose revenue figures for Mississippi or Alabama because of confidentiality agreements. But while the number of gambling machines grew 13.5 percent in Alabama in 2012, they fell by 5 percent in Mississippi.

Overall spending by gamblers slowed at U.S. Indian casinos in 2012, as revenue growth fell behind non-tribal casinos for the first time in nearly two decades, according to the report. Revenue still hit an all-time high, though. Nationwide Indian casino revenue grew 2 percent, to $28.1 billion, down from a 3.4 percent growth rate the previous year.

Representatives of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians did not respond Wednesday to requests for comment.

The tribe said in December that it would borrow money to renovate its Silver Star Hotel and Casino near Philadelphia and return the neighboring Golden Moon Hotel and Casino to a seven-day schedule. Golden Moon has operated on weekends only since 2009.

The Choctaws opened the Bok Homa Casino north of Laurel in 2010, and say they're considering a casino near Carthage.

Earlier in 2013, Moody's Investors Service upgraded its outlook on Choctaw debt, saying the tribe cut expenses by terminating "unfavorable" vendor contracts, but described revenue growth as "weak." Questions stemming from an FBI raid in 2011 still hang over the operation.

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Follow Jeff Amy at http://twitter.com/jeffamy

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