Mississippi Casinos and the Upside of Disaster

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All those television ads about how BP is cleaning up the Mississippi and Alabama beaches after the 2010 oil spill have helped the Coast casinos overtake Tunica as Mississippi’s top gambling destination.

The 2013 American Gaming Association survey shows the Gulf Coast, with $1.095 billion gross gambling revenue, is now the 8th largest casino market in the United State. Tunica is 10th, at $822 million. The Coast overtook Tunica in 2011 and has grown nearly 20 percent since then, while Tunica has stayed flat. The 30 Mississippi casinos combined make the state the fourth largest market in the country, behind Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Chicago.

The Tunica market, 20 years old this year, faces competition from Southland Greyhound Park in West Memphis, Arkansas, which isn’t in the AGA survey but is a casino for all intents and purposes and closer to Memphis. Also, some Tunica casinos were closed in 2011 due to flooding of the Mississippi River.

Bobby Leatherman, whose family owned the land where some of the first casinos in Tunica were built, thinks the Gulf Coast gains can also be traced, somewhat paradoxically, to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the BP oil spill. The hurricane forced the beach casinos to rebuild and state legislation allowed them to move on shore. The Coast was flooded with construction workers, federal aid, and insurance money. The oil spill did little damage to the manmade beach on the Mississippi Sound, but Mississippi got a bonanza of BP-sponsored ads urging visitors to come to the Gulf Coast.

With its 30 casinos, Mississippi ranks third among states in the number of jobs, 23,377, which is down from 36,000 in 1999. Mississippi has 36,032 gambling machines (Arkansas has 1,900) and got $273 million in casino tax revenue in 2012, down .6 percent from 2011. The states combined state and local gambling tax of 12 percent is one of the lowest in the country.

The rest pf the casino Top Ten, in order: Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Chicago, Detroit, Connecticut, Philadelphia, St. Louis, The Poconos. New York City is 15th, based on first full year of operations for a casino in Queens.

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