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Casinos drawing customers despite tough times

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Gambling your money might appear to be

risky during today's difficult economic times, but casino

connoisseur Teresa Snow isn't folding - yet.

"No, the economy hasn't slowed me down so far," said Snow of

McIntosh, Ala., who patronizes the slot machines at the Imperial

Palace in Biloxi, about 100 miles from her home. "It's the

possibility of winning a big amount of money, and it's also the

courtesy, the way you're treated there, as if you're very well

off," said Snow, explaining the lure of gambling palaces.

But just how well off are the casinos, considering that some

regulars, like Terry and Anthony Molinari of Brandon, are, more and

more, balking at betting?

"We don't go to the casino very much anymore because of the

economy," said Terry Molinari, a patron of Rainbow Casino in

Vicksburg. "We like to go. It's hard to fight it. But you can't go

with scared money."

Whether Mississippi's casinos are, or should be, running scared

may be open to debate. Gross revenue is up for some months this

year - casinos pay state taxes on the gross - while, apparently,

net revenue is down, at least for some casinos.

"Gaming economists will tell you that, historically, casinos do

well in down economic times, said Dan McDaniel Jr., a Jackson

gaming attorney. "But I don't think you've seen down economic

times like this, at least not in my lifetime."

The state's Gulf Coast casinos shut down starting Aug. 31 for

the Labor Day weekend as Hurricane Gustav threatened. And yet, for

August, gross revenues for those 11 gaming houses were up, from

$108.6 million to $112.1 million, compared to August 2007.

And for five of the first eight months of this year, revenues

rose for the Coast casinos, compared to the same months for the

previous year. The state's 18 river casinos haven't fared so well,

showing a decline for each month except February, compared to

corresponding months for 2007.

Still, their gross revenues topped $1 billion.

Obviously, a lot of people are still "going to the boats," not

only in spite of the economy, but also, possibly, because of it,

said Ann Homer Cook of Ridgeland, a life coach and a nationally

certified gambling counselor.

"Casinos are very welcoming places," she said. "They're nice

to you there. They give you free drinks, and it's bright. One of

the reasons people continue to gamble is it is an escape. Some

prefer the slots because they can become one with the machine. That

way, it blocks out all of their thoughts about their problems."

Those hurt by gambling, especially during bad financial times,

are not the "recreational gamblers, who, instead of, say, going to

the movies, they go to the casinos," Cook said.

"Not everyone who gambles is addicted, by any means," Cook

said. "But when the economy goes bad, if you are prone to

addiction and have family problems, even if you are in the

recreational or social stage, you could be pushed toward that

problem stage."

Snow, the slot player from Alabama, said, "You have to have

discipline with your money. If you don't, it really sucks you in."

Molinari knows the feeling.

"When you win, it's almost like a drug," she said. "It's an

adrenaline rush. Anything you can do to escape the reality, you'll

do it again."

During terrorist attacks, disastrous weather and a foundering

economy, "More people will flock to casinos and gamble," said Dr.

Carole Lieberman, a Beverly Hills, Calif., psychiatrist whose areas

of expertise include compulsive spending.

"They are so desperate, they feel they have nothing left to

lose," Lieberman said. "They are frightened and fantasize about

protecting themselves by winning a lot of money and running away

from their problems."

But Sam Begley, a Jackson lawyer whose clients include casino

operators, doesn't buy the "correlation between people going to

the casinos and times being bad. "People want to be entertained,

as always. Some rent DVDs, some take trips. Some like to play slot

machines," Begley said.

And there are patrons who frequent casinos just for the meals

and headline entertainers, said Denise von Herrmann, a gaming

expert at the University of Southern Mississippi.

"If you do gamble, it's a form of entertainment that allows you

to scale back: You can switch from dollar slots to quarter slots.

It's not like the movies, where if you're paying for two people,

you're always going to spend, what, $18, no matter what," Herrmann

said.

At any rate, Begley said, in spite of the Gulf Coast's figures

for August, gross revenues do not accurately reflect how well

casinos are doing there, or anywhere.

Echoing that view, McDaniel said, "That's not net revenue. You

can't tell from gross revenue how much the casinos are giving away

comps and other incentives to get people in the door. Also, one of

those months may have an extra weekend, compared to the year

before, and that will tilt the numbers as well."

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,

http://www.clarionledger.com

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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