Magnolia Bluffs’ first year brings gaming revenue jump

Published 12:05 am Sunday, December 22, 2013

NATCHEZ — A year after Magnolia Bluffs Casino opened its doors the Natchez gaming market has grown revenues by 64 percent.

After adding a second casino into a market long dominated solely by the Isle of Capri Casino, gaming revenue figures reported by the Natchez City Clerk’s office between November 2011 and 2012 and the same period from December 2012-2013 grew from $27,233,135.43 to $44,630,511.59.

The Magnolia Bluffs Casino opened Dec. 18, 2012.

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Data for December 2013 is not yet available and individual numbers for casinos aren’t publicly provided by the City of Natchez or the Mississippi Department of Revenue.

Whether the amount of revenue growth can be sustained over time, or if the two casinos can continue to operate without 100 percent of the market share, is still unknown, but Natchez Mayor Butch Brown said he can foresee future growth for the area’s gaming industry.

“It appears the two casinos are sharing the market that exists, but the promotional activities on the parts of both casinos are beginning to attract more people to the area,” he said. “Concerts, food services and promotions … have changed dramatically in the last year. Any of that kind of promotion and advertising will certainly result in growth. Competition is good and competition is keen right now, and I think we will see some expansion, but the jury is out on how much that market will expand.”

Magnolia Bluffs Casino President Kevin Preston said the casino operators had a learning experience in the first year when trying to reach the Natchez market.

“When you come in as a new casino in a competitive market, your competitor is going to put up a fight to keep the market,” he said. “It took a little longer than we anticipated to understand the market, but now we have a good idea, and we are really focused on our secondary market — within 50 miles of Natchez — and on increasing the market as a whole.”

Preston said the company has some future development plans in the works, but also plans to expand its entertainment options in the coming year.

“We will do more concerts next year, now that we have more of an idea on how to do those on our third deck enclosed when the weather is cold,” he said.

“The acts we brought in this year, most of them haven’t been down this way before, and we are going to work to bring in more of those kinds of acts. We are going to vary between country, rock ’n‘ roll and rhythm and blues so we can have a diversity of concerts.”

Isle of Capri spokeswoman Jill Alexander said the Isle has strong Natchez roots and remains committed to the market.

“Our goal is to continue to provide the best gaming experience for our customers, and we are proud to have been voted the best buffet in the Reader’s Choice Awards by The (Natchez) Democrat,” Alexander said.  “We are also proud of our wonderful employees for their continued dedication in delivering the best gaming experience in Natchez.

“Moving forward Isle continues to evaluate our casino to determine how best to reinvest our capital dollars so we can maximize our operations and market position.”

By the numbers

Magnolia Bluffs employs 219 people, according to information Preston provided. Of those, 182 are full-time and 37 are part-time.

Mississippi residents make up 189 of the 219, while 30 employees reside in Louisiana. Of the Mississippi residents employed by the casino, 145 live in Natchez.

The casino has an estimated payroll of $6 million for 2013.

Magnolia Bluffs paid $499,709 in taxes to the City of Natchez as of Nov. 30, and during that same period spent $719,715 with Natchez vendors, Preston said.

The casino gave $59,500 in contributions or sponsorships through the end of November, and spent $69,800 on advertising during the year.

Other commitments

When Magnolia Bluffs began development of its Natchez facility and signed its lease agreement with the city, the casino agreed to pay $1 million in annual rent for a city-owned waterfront location on Roth Hill. The lease agreement also calls for the casino to pay $225,000 annually for community development and a one-time $1 million contribution for a YMCA, recreation center or civil rights museum.

As of its first anniversary Wednesday, the casino had met all of those obligations. Preston said the city would set up a committee to oversee the use of the community development funds. The casino will have a seat on the committee.

“Groups or individuals will submit applications for funding needs, and we will sit down and distribute those funds out for economic development type things or community development type things,” he said.

The $1 million payment for the YMCA, recreation center or civil rights museum has been broken into three payments of $333,000, the first of which was made on time, earlier this month.

The second and third payments will be paid annually and will include a 5-percent interest paid on them, making the total contribution $1,050,000.

“They were right on the money on Dec. 18, and for the coming year they are paid in full,” Brown said.

The rent payment has been used to fund the city’s street improvement plan, and Brown said the additional funds have been a nice cushion for the city’s infrastructure projects.

“I know things have been a lot simpler having those funds available to structure our plans, particularly the street program,” he said. “That is work that needed to be done, and we would have had to look elsewhere to find those dollars. We have had to get creative with grants and short-term borrowing in the past.”

The casino has also committed to making two future, one-time $300,000 payments, one for a park along the Mississippi River and the second for the Natchez Trails project. Those payments are due 18 months after the casino’s open date, though Preston said the casino has already spent $40,000 on architectural plans for the park.

The casino has set up a community development team, and Preston said the company has worked to integrate itself into the community as a good corporate citizen.

“Being a single entity like this, and being in my position, we can make the decision (to get involved in a community effort) right away instead of going up a corporate ladder,” he said. “We wanted to make sure this year we got really engrained in the community, and we are going to continue to do that. As long as we are here, we want to be a long-term, positive business in this community.”