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
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
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."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger,
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)