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Hitting the jackpot: Magnolia Bluffs Casino will add jobs, money to economy

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Brad Kerry with Modern Gaming installs a Whales of Cash slot machine Wednesday afternoon on the main floor of the Magnolia Bluffs Casino. The casino opens to the public on Tuesday.

NATCHEZ — With 265 employees, $7 million in payroll and a promise to be a community partner, Magnolia Bluffs Casino says it will deliver on its promise of economic impact for the area.

Local contractors and city government have been feeling the benefits for months, but with Tuesday’s planned opening, round two of impacts can begin and long-term effects will start to be measured.

The casino has spent the last few months and weeks ramping up to full staff, and casino President Kevin Preston said approximately 75 percent of the total 265 employees are local residents.

LAUREN WOOD | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Adam Boterf works on installing booths in the Cypress Mill restaurant Wednesday afternoon at the Magnolia Bluffs Casino.

Adding 265 new jobs for county residents to the local workforce could feasibly drop Adams County’s unemployment rate from 8.4 percent to 6.4 percent, but that’s likely not realistic math, said Mary Willoughby, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security’s chief of labor market information.

It is too early to tell exactly how the casino’s opening will affect Adams County’s employment rate because of several variables, she said. Those variables include whether positions left open by people leaving a job to work at the casino are filled and whether all 265 jobs went to Adams County residents or residents of neighboring counties or parishes.

The unemployment rate is calculated by the number of Adams County residents who are employed, not the number of jobs in Adams County, Willoughby said.

But for the local residents who did get full-time jobs at the casino, a steady check and health benefits are ensured, Preston said.

In addition to the added jobs for residents, Mayor Butch Brown said he believes the casino’s opening will continue to benefit the city and help fund city operations.

In addition to gaming taxes, the city will receive $1 million in annual lease payments. The city has been receiving $50,000 monthly payments since March 1 credited toward the first $1 million rent payment due by the opening of the casino.

Brown said the $1 million will likely go into the city’s general fund and be used where it is needed. He said, though, the city may put it in a separate account.

According to the casino’s lease with the city, it will also contribute $225,000 annually to a community development fund beginning one year after the casino opens.

With construction work done and only final touches remaining, the work of local contractors is winding to a close, but the extra business was appreciated, said Hayden Kaiser III of Jordan, Kaiser & Sessions, a civil engineering firm based in Natchez that worked on the casino’s construction.

“I’ve really been working on it for the past five years, but especially in the last year or two when the economy has been down,” he said. “It has had a tremendous effect. I know they helped us out and a lot of other contractors.”

And other Natchez businesses are ready and waiting for their piece of the casino pie.

Warren Reuther of New Orleans Hotel Consultants, the company that manages the Natchez Grand Hotel, said it is difficult to predict now how the casino’s opening will affect the hotel’s occupancy rates.

“I hope it will have a positive effect,” he said.

Reuther said he plans to meet with the casino’s marketing team this week and discuss potential partnerships between the casino and the hotel. Reuther said package deals for the casino and the hotel may be considered.

But Natchez Eola Hotel accountant Patti Jenkins said she does not believe the casino’s opening will affect business for the Eola.

“We have people who come stay and go to the boat, but that’s not necessarily why they visit Natchez,” she said.

Magnolia Bluffs Casino will be the second casino to open in Natchez. It has been in the planning and development stages for more than five years and, with Tuesday’s opening, its developers have succeeded where previous investment groups seeking to open a second Natchez casino have failed.

The largest unknown of all though, may be the impact the second casino could have on Natchez’s first casino, the Isle of Capri.

Isle of Capri Spokeswoman Jill Alexander said the company did not wish to comment on how it believed Magnolia Bluffs Casino’s opening would affect its own business.