JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast won the second-highest monthly amount ever in March, boosted by betting on the NCAA basketball tournament.
Although casinos in other parts of Mississippi remain beset by increasing competition, they too have been showing strength since the advent of sports betting.
Figures released this month show gamblers lost $212 million in March, up 5% from $201 million in March 2018. That includes $8.4 million in sports betting revenue at casinos.
The 12 coastal casinos saw March revenue rise 13% percent to $124 million. The only month when higher revenue was recorded was in July 2007. March is usually the peak revenue month of the year at Mississippi casinos, with gamblers spurred to the table by income tax refunds.
"They saw really good numbers associated with March Madness," said Jay McDaniel, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The commission has yet to conduct a formal study of the impact of sports betting, but McDaniel said there's little doubt what's driving the trend, with casinos statewide up nearly 4% in the past 12 months. "We figure that it's got to be sports betting," he said.
Casino managers and state officials believe sports bettors are also spending money in casino hotels and restaurants and doing other gambling.
"Sports betting is certainly contributing the most to our increased revenue, but it is hard to put actual numbers on the non-gaming components," Chett Harrison, general manager of Golden Nugget Biloxi casino, wrote in an email. "We do know that with those who are sports betting are staying the night, gambling, and eating at our hotel and casino."
Golden Nugget, with five casinos nationwide, is owned by Houston dining and entertainment magnate Tilman Fertitta.
The 15 casinos along the Mississippi River from Natchez to Tunica County saw revenue fall 4% to $88 million. That's a down month, but it came after seven straight months of increases. Revenue at the river casinos is up 2% over the past 12 months, a reversal of a yearslong downward trend.
But the heavy pressure from expanding gambling in Arkansas, especially in Tunica County and Lula, isn't letting up. Caesars Entertainment closed the Tunica Roadhouse casino in Tunica County in January, and Penn National Gaming announced earlier this month that it will close Resorts Casino Tunica on June 30.
Voters in Arkansas approved a referendum allowing four full-fledged casinos, including one at Southland Gaming & Racing in nearby West Memphis. Operator Delaware North announced a $250 million expansion of Southland in January.
Numbers exclude Choctaw Indian casinos, which don't report to the state.