JACKSON, Mississippi — Mississippi's 17 casinos along the Mississippi River won less than $1 billion for gamblers last year for the first time since 1994.
The decline along the river, punctuated by the June closing of the Harrah's Tunica Hotel & Casino, continued to drag down overall gambling revenue in Mississippi in 2014. The statewide total fell 3.2 percent to $2.07 billion for all of 2014, down about $70 million from 2013.
Statewide casino revenues have fallen in six out of seven years since peaking at $2.89 billion in 2007. The shrinking industry employs fewer people and generates less tax money for the state, cities and counties.
The numbers exclude Choctaw Indian casinos, which don't report winnings to the state.
Last year, river casinos saw winnings fell 7.8 percent to $988 million, as increased competition and recession-stressed consumers meant the number of gamblers and amounts wagered continued to fall.
There were some positive signs in 2014, mainly along the Gulf Coast. There, despite the closure of Biloxi's Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant in September cutting the number of gambling halls to 11, total revenue rose 1.4 percent in 2014 to $1.08 billion.
The stories were reversed in December, though, as casinos along the Mississippi River made a rare gain while casinos along the Gulf Coast fell slightly.
State Department of Revenue figures show casinos statewide won $168 million from gamblers in December, down 0.2 percent from $168.3 million in December 2013.
Coastal casinos won $84.6 million, down 1 percent from December 2013. The 17 river casinos won $83.4 million, up 1 percent from December 2013.
"The best thing about 2014 was December, and where we finished up over December from the year prior," said Webster Franklin, CEO of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Tunica's casinos have been hurt by competition from the Southland Park Gaming and Racing in West Memphis, Arkansas. Revenues in Arkansas continue to grow healthily, rising 8 percent in 2014 from 2013. But that's actually a slowdown from six years of double-digit growth, an indicator that the Arkansas gambling halls may be maturing.
Franklin has been pushing for a comprehensive tourism development strategy to add other amenities to attract visitors and encourage casinos to reinvest.
"How can we remain competitive in an ever-changing environment?" Franklin said.
Gambling revenues at major casinos in Louisiana have been rising in recent months, aided in part by a third casino in Lake Charles aimed at pulling in gamblers from Texas.
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