Mississippi casinos are taking more revenue now than they were before the pandemic, and the Gulf Coast is leading the spike.
According to data from the state Gaming Commission, Mississippi casinos are reporting a nearly 21% increase in gross gaming revenue so far this year compared to the same period in 2019. From January through May, the latest data available, the state’s casinos reported a gross gaming revenue totaling $1.1 billion.
The Gulf Coast casinos' gross revenue for the months of March, April, and May have never been higher, according to Gaming Commission records, Mississippi Today reports. In April of this year, the Gulf Coast casinos reported a gross gaming revenue increase of about $46 million and $34 million in May.
The general manager of Biloxi’s Palace Casino Keith Crosby, said: “There was less competition for people’s discretionary dollars when you consider the number of businesses that had to close.” He added, “On the flip side of that effect, the casino industry got ahead of it with some significant safety measures in place to deal with COVID.”
Mississippi casinos reported nearly $1.8 billion in gross revenue for all of 2020, which included the roughly two months they had to shut down because of the pandemic. In 2019, that figure was $2.2 billion. With half of the year still left, the casinos are on pace to have the highest total gross gaming revenue since they began operating in the 1990s.
The casinos’ recent spike is matched with an increase in tourists visiting the Gulf Coast. Karen Conner, the director of marketing for the Tourism Bureau Coastal Mississippi, said the region’s number of tourists is higher now than it has been in the last several years.
“This significant increase in visitation serves as an important benchmark for the progress of our recovery as a destination,” Conner said. “Tourism is the lifeblood of Mississippi’s tri-county coastal region, but despite the indelible impact of COVID-19 on the industry, Coastal Mississippi continues to see successes and growth.”
State Rep. Casey Eure, a Republican from Biloxi who chairs the House Gaming Committee, said the casinos have benefited as more professional sporting events resumed. The state started allowing sports betting inside casinos in 2018. “I think Mississippi casinos are some of the best in the country,” Eure said. “People have been happy to get back to normal life.”
However, hospitality businesses across the state are still struggling to fill positions with qualified workers. The Beau Rivage, the Coast’s largest casino and resort, had 99 open positions on its website last Wednesday. That’s even after the Biloxi resort and casino had a job fair in May, which hosted about 300 people and resulted in 120 job offers.
In response to labor demands, some casinos have started raising wages. Crosby said: “The cost of doing business is going up.” He added, “Food costs are up, material costs are up. You have to think about what that nets out to. There may be better revenue but there is a creeping increase in cost following that.”
The casino manager said he’s waiting to see how the fall fairs. He doesn’t expect the record-smashing gross revenue to continue much longer.