Gulf Coast Up, Atlantic City Down

Gaming Revenue Recovers in Katrina-Devastated Areas

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In the money:
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In 2007, gross gaming revenues from Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos exceeded pre-storm levels for the first time since Hurricane Katrina tore through the region in August 2005. In 2004, the last full year of business unaffected by the storm, area casinos drew $1.23 billion; in 2005, which included three zero-dollar, post-hurricane months, revenues plunged to $886 million; in 2006, the total inched up to $910 million; and in 2007, gaming revenues experienced a 43 percent jump, to $1.3 billion.

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said that “the success of 2007 is attributed to the Gulf Coast rebounding after Katrina.” The recovery has not, however, extended to include meetings business. “While the casinos have recovered their level of gross gaming revenue,” Gregory said, “I know they are still working hard to recover their lost convention space and other amenities.”

Room inventory also continues to lag. Pre-storm, the area had 17,000 hotel rooms; now it has 11,000.

Yet there are signs of renewal in these realms, too. According to a spokesperson for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau, roughly 400,000 square feet of new meeting space should come online in the next few years. About 16 percent of that will come from the $1 billion, 800-room Margaritaville Casino & Resort, currently under construction and set to open in 2010.

Atlantic City did not fare as well in 2007: The city suffered its first drop in gaming revenue -- by 5.7 percent, to $4.92 billion -- in nearly three decades. Jeffrey Vasser, executive director of the Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority, attributes this in large part to the opening of slot machine parlors in nearby eastern Pennsylvania.

But this could be good news for groups, as Atlantic City is forced to compete by adding amenities and attractions -- “basically following the same model as Vegas,” Vasser said.

“Historically, it was easy for Atlantic City casinos to focus on their bread and butter,” said Dan Nita, senior vice president and general manager of Caesars Atlantic City, one of three area properties that did enjoy gaming growth in 2007. “Now that has diversified, and you see convention groups that like to bring their spouses and have something to do, all of which we are trying to accommodate.”