’08 brings slightly lower casino revenue|[01/19/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2008

Taxes collected by Vicksburg and Warren County from casinos began the first quarter of the 2007-08 fiscal year slightly off last year’s opening pace.

Still, state gaming officials and local casino operators are hopeful expansion and the completion of a fifth casino in Vicksburg can bring the market to a higher level by next year.

Revenue to the City of Vicksburg totaled $1,595,493 in the last three months of 2007, the beginning of the budget year. For December, the city collected $555,328. Compared to this time last year, tax revenues are down about 2 percent.

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Warren County took in $700,775 in taxes from the casinos during the quarter and $261,457 for December. For the quarter, collections are more than $28,000 behind last year.

Vicksburg’s $30 million spending plan for 2007-08 estimates $6.44 million from gaming taxes will flow to the general fund. In the county, where gaming money is treated separate and apart from its general fund, just more than $2.6 million is expected to help pay for paving, anti-erosion projects, recreation and some of charitable contributions approved by the Legislature.

Statewide, figures released by the Mississippi Gaming Commission showed a record $2.89 billion in gross revenues in 2007, breaking the previous record of $2.77 billion in 2004, the year before Hurricane Katrina wiped out gaming on the Gulf Coast for three months and increased business for river casinos as coastal venues gradually re-established.

Also, $29 billion in revenue-based taxes flowed to Mississippi casinos in December.

Revenues taken in by Mississippi River casinos totaled $124.7 million in December, up nearly $4 million from November. The total for the year was $1.58 billion, down from 2006 but in line with trends seen in years leading up the devastating August 2005 storm.

Mississippi Gaming Commission deputy director Allen Godfrey said the addition of Riverwalk Casino should enhance the gaming scene in Vicksburg, particularly neighboring Rainbow Casino.

Developers of Riverwalk Casino plan to open the $100 million facility in November. Plans call for the casino to sit on pilings on the Mississippi River on 22 acres and feature an 80-room hotel, 800 slot machines.

Greg Carlin, chief executive officer of Magnolia Hill LLC, 70 percent of which is owned by Chicago-based High River Gaming, said this week a landscaped walkway highlighting views of the river is still in the works to put a finishing touch on the site.

Chicago-based real estate magnate Neil Bluhm will have controlling interest in the casino.

Ameristar Casino, the local market leader and largest employer of the four, plans to open its 1,100-space parking garage and other parts of its $98 million renovation in the second quarter of this year.

DiamondJacks Casino plans to continue renovations begun when it was purchased from Isle of Capri in 2006 to complement growth in gaming space and table games, marketing director Alesia Shaw said this week.