Scarlet Pearl Casino put a shine on the casino market in South Mississippi, pushing January revenue above $100 million for the first time since 2008.
Revenue of $100.5 million for the 12 Coast casinos is $13 million -- 15 percent -- higher than the $87.3 million posted in January 2015.
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"It's a huge increase," said Michael Bruffey, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, and he said it shows Scarlet Pearl grew the market rather than taking revenue from the other South Mississippi casinos.
Scarlet Pearl is D'Iberville's first casino, and the first built to the state's new requirements of 300 or more hotel rooms and an amenity that will draw new visitors to the Coast. Lava Links, a miniature golf course with an exploding volcano, was that amenity at Scarlet Pearl.
A report released this week by the MGHA shows the Coast casino market is on a roll after ending 2014 with a 1.4 percent increase and 2015 with a 6 percent increase, the first since 2007.
"And that's in the face of visitors declining," said Bruffey, who edited the report.
Although 817 new hotel rooms were added at Coast casinos last year -- just 449 short of pre-Hurricane Katrina totals -- far fewer visitors are coming to South Mississippi casinos than before the storm. About 1 million fewer people visited in 2015 than in 2014, the report said. The number of visits has decreased from 20.7 million in 2004 to 14.6 million in 2015.
Traditionally, the opening of a new casino has attracted more people to the Coast and that happened again with the opening of Scarlet Pearl in December. From October through December, the visitor count was 3.7 million, an increase from 3.4 million in 2014 but well below the pre-Katrina number of 5.4 million for the fourth quarter of 2004.
"We may not be seeing more visitors but we're seeing visitors spending more," Bruffey said. That means people must be staying longer and spending more, which he said is the only answer to why casino revenue is up while casino visitors are down.
Louisiana this week reported a 5.8 percent drop in its casino revenue to $207.1 million in January while Mississippi's total revenue increased 7.6 percent to $177.6 million.
The report recalled the achievements of the casino industry in South Mississippi in 2015, 10 years after Katrina closed casinos for a few months, a year or permanently. In addition to Scarlet Pearl's opening, 2015 saw the debut of the minor league baseball stadium MGM Park and a new hotel at Silver Slipper Casino. Island View Casino completed its $60 million renovation to the Beach Tower. Boomtown Biloxi opened an RV park and several casinos invested millions in updating their guest rooms, restaurants or casinos.
The report also pointed out Alabama, Florida and Georgia lawmakers are talking of expanding their casino markets, which would pinch local casinos -- 17 percent of visitors to Coast casinos come from Alabama, 15 percent from Florida and 6 percent from Georgia.
"Outside of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, you will not find a cluster of high-end gaming resorts like you do in Mississippi," the report said. When Coast casino operators reinvest in resort amenities, Bruffey said, the area is less likely to be affected by competition when small casinos open between South Mississippi and where the customers originate.
"And they have. The operators have invested over $1.5 billion on the Gulf Coast since 2011," he said, "to remain competitive and to separate our region as a unique, high-quality resort area."