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Biloxi, Mississippi Coast Casinos Foresaw Economic Crisis, Made Adjustments

By Mary Perez, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Jul. 17, 2009--BILOXI -- The Coast casinos saw the economy faltering and reduced their staffs, but economists in Biloxi on Thursday said the governments didn't react will now have to cut jobs.

"The only thing that's driving growth in Mississippi is state and local government. You have to wonder how long this can go on," said William Gunther, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Southern Mississippi. He and other economists examined the 2009 Economic Outlook: A Mid-year Assessment in a conference at The Peoples Bank.

Manufacturing in the state was the hardest hit by the current economy, said Gunther. He's particularly worried about state and local government employment since they haven't lost any jobs despite steep declines in revenue.

"Forty eight states have deficits," he said, including Mississippi. The state's drop in revenue from the previous fiscal year could be 17 percent when the final numbers for June are in, he said.

On the Coast it's difficult to sort out what is attributed to rebuilding when compiling economic forecasts, said Ed Ranck, associate director at MSU.

"We haven't seen as much of a recession as a lot of parts of the country," he said.

Ranck said he doesn't see the current high unemployment rate dropping rapidly.

Hurricane Katrina helped the Coast with construction jobs and to stay competitive in the casino industry, the economists said.

The speedy way the Coast casinos were rebuilt after the storm shows it is considered a profitable market, said Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Mississippi has the third largest casino revenue in the country after Nevada and New Jersey. Schwer said Atlantic City is being hurt by competition in neighboring states but still has the advantage of the huge population of New York City and other East Coast cities to draw from.

"Mississippi competes with us," he said. As Las Vegas debates whether to continue to move into high-end casino resorts or go back to the more affordable casinos that made the destination profitable, "which way we go may give you a better opportunity," he said.

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To see more of The Sun Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sunherald.com.

Copyright (c) 2009, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.

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