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Harrah's to close casino in Mississippi

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Clay Chandler and Geoff Pender, The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger 12:10 a.m. EDT March 27, 2014

JACKSON, Miss. -- Caesars Entertainment Corp. plans to close Harrah's Tunica casino on June 2, citing "declines in business levels in the area stemming from increased competition."

The casino resort employs about 1,300 people.

John Payne, president of Caesars Entertainment's Central Division, said the decision was made "after exploring every other viable alternative." The company has attempted to sell the casino without success but plans to continue to try to sell it up to the closing date.

In a news release, Caesars said it remains "committed to the Tunica area," where it also operates Horseshoe Tunica and Tunica Roadhouse Hotel and Casino. It said it will work to find new positions for as many Harrah's employees as possible.

State and casino industry officials last week warned a panel of Mississippi lawmakers that the state's casino industry is having problems, particularly in the Tunica-area market. The market there hasn't recovered since casinos briefly were shut down by flooding in 2011. Nearby gambling halls in other states seized on this opportunity and have been upgrading and marketing heavily, state leaders were told.

The economy is picking up, but nearby states with casinos, "race-inos" and Native American gambling are siphoning business from Mississippi casinos. And more are looking to get into the game.

Gambling revenue in the Tunica area is down more than 25 percent from 2008, from $1.1 billion to $826 million. Visitor count, or "foot traffic," for that area is down from nearly 16 million to about 6.3 million, a nearly 61 percent decline, industry officials told lawmakers.

Overall, Mississippi's 30 casinos employ more than 23,000, and taxes and other collections provide roughly 5 percent of the state government budget.

Republican state Rep. Richard Bennett, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, said Caesars has given state leaders assurance "it is going to reinvest millions of dollars into the Harrah's brand."

"Even though it's hurting, (Tunica) is still a viable market," Bennett said.

Bennett said Mississippi, a Bible Belt state that has always had an uneasy relationship with its casinos, may have to consider helping the industry.

"The state is going to have to, at some time, look at them as being a legitimate business and may have to help them like we do others," Bennett said. "We don't provide them any tax breaks, even on the tourism aspect, golf courses, hotels, nothing."

Webster Franklin, director of the Tunica Convention and Visitors Bureau, said casinos don't get the benefit of the doubt when it comes to public incentives that other industries in the state get.

"We don't treat the gaming industry the way we treat every other industry in our state," Franklin said. "And if that continues, events like today will continue to happen."

Tunica Mayor Chuck Cariker said Caesars has "been a good community partner."

"It'll be tough for everybody. I hate to see it happen," he said.

Read more http://news.google.com/news/url?sa=t&fd=R&ct2=us&usg=AFQjCNHzX6Gx-PTwXrk0l9buofEbfUJ6Sg&clid=c3a7d30bb8a4878e06b80cf16b898331&cid=43982358929049&ei=sQQ0U_jLLYWXgQfkLA&url=http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/03/27/harrahs-to-close-casino-in-miss/6945389/

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