Are changes ahead for area gaming?

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 28, 1999

Six years after gaming first arrived in Natchez, the industry could see several changes over the next year.

Isle of Capri Casinos Inc. announced plans to buy Lady Luck Gaming Corp., including Natchez’s dockside Lady Luck Casino.

And Mayor Larry L. &uot;Butch&uot; Brown announced this week that an investment company is interested in building a dockside casino and hotel development at the base of Roth’s Hill Road.

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Meanwhile, CSL&160;Development Corp. is still paying the county more than $11,000 a month for an option on the Belwood property in Adams County, said County Administrator Charlie Brown.

&uot;They’re doing all of their feasibility studies right now,&uot; Brown said.

Mayor Brown declined to name the company which offered to build a new casino in the city, and he also declined to name the amount the company must pay to secure the option.

Like the county, the city will keep the money secured for the option – which the mayor said he hopes will ensure the company’s genuine interest.

Brown said he thinks more casinos can help attract more people to Natchez. &uot;Competition is said to increase business, not to distract from it,&uot; he said. &uot;If you look at the coast and Tunica and others, the industry is growing, it’s not shrinking.&uot;

But gaming expert Bill Thompson, chairman of the public administration department at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, said Natchez’s market is simply too small to support another casino.

&uot;You’ve got the one casino, and that’ll be your market,&uot; he said. &uot;Go with what you’ve got.&uot;

Thompson said much of Natchez’s market is local, and other nearby cities – New Orleans, Vicksburg, Tunica and Biloxi – have several casinos to attract visitors.

But Thompson agreed that more than two casinos would increase competition.

&uot;If you had three or four you could start promoting outside,&uot; he said.

In its 1999 Global Gaming Almanac, investment group Bear Stearns projects the Natchez market may potentially $36 million by 2003.

So far this year, Lady Luck has posted revenues of more than $26 million in Natchez.

The company interested in building a second casino in Natchez would build it at the bottom of a rebuilt Roth’s Hill Road, which has been closed for some time. The city would be responsible for rebuilding the road, the mayor said. Although the company will be paying an option for both the casino site and the site of a hotel adjacent to the convention center, Brown said three other hotel developers have expressed interest in building the convention center hotel.

The downtown convention center is scheduled to be completed no later than April 2001.