Mississippi marks 25 years of gaming, now looks ahead Nick Sortal, CDC Gaming Reports · August 3, 2016 at 1:27 pm One of the first states outside of Nevada to roll the dice on casinos celebrated its 25th year on Wednesday, and Mississippi officials were quick to relate details about how they feel lucky. “When you look at our regional economy, we see gaming is the glue that holds the economy together and it contributes to the new dollars coming across our borders,” said Ashley Edwards, president of the Gulf Coast Business Council, during a 25th anniversary roundtable in Biloxi. “We have a regional economy on the Gulf Coast and there’s absolutely no doubt that gaming is the forefront of our economy. “The goal has been bringing in new dollars into our region, and gaming has been the catalyst.” The American Gaming Association organized the event, its latest as part of the Get to Know Gaming campaign that highlights the role the industry plays in communities across 40 states. Statewide, Mississippi casinos have delivered more than $53 billion in revenue since the first properties opened in 1992, the AGA notes. “This is really a shining star in the gaming industry,” said Geoff Freeman, president and CEO of the AGA, based in Washington, D.C. Freeman notes that Mississippi casinos are responsible for about 40,000 jobs, and the AGA is becoming more active in tell what he calls success stories. “For years as we expanded beyond Nevada, we tried to stay below the radar screen,” he said. “But we have a story to tell, about job creation, investment in local community and so many other great aspects of this industry.” Ashley also noted that the casinos have survived a difficult decade. “We’ve had a tough 10 years, with Hurricane Katrina, the BP oil spill and sandwiched in between was the great recession,” he said. Jonathan Jones, senior vice president and general manager of Harrah’s Gulf Coast, explained that the industry has provided lifelong jobs, adding that 170 of his employees have been employed 20 years or longer. He also said Biloxi has major operators, which attract gamblers from outside the area. “For us, over 80 percent of the people come from more than 70 miles away,” he said. Mississippi House of Representatives member Richard Bennett, chairman of the state’s gaming committee, said the Biloxi area has grown from 1 million tourists per year to 10 million to 15 million annually. The airport used to handle 4,000 flights a year; now it’s at 15,000. “People were afraid of the negative effects when casinos came in here,” he said. “But crime actually went down in Biloxi and Harrison County. We had the money to train officers and better equipment.” He suggests the market will grow by legislators encouraging casinos to build amenities of all kinds. “Coming in here this morning I saw not just gamblers, but families. The amenities help draw people,” he said. To that end, panelists noted that for Biloxi to grow, better airlift is necessary. They also acknowledge competition could come from Georgia entering the market or even the northwest corner of Florida, which has a lawsuit pending with the state to open a racetrack casino. Freeman said Mississippi casinos have had “an unreal amount of support, but in my world and where I sit looking out, I’m even more interested in looking at the next five years.” “How do we help the industry continue to grow and support communities while the days of expansion are likely behind us?” he asked. “The biggest risk the industry has to worry about is complacency.” Freeman encouraged interested parties to ask national legislators to get away from PASPA, the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act passed in 1992 that prohibits sports gambling in most states. “This law has driven trillions of dollars into the black market and it’s time for the federal government to get out of the way,” he said. Freeman said casinos are competing for discretionary dollars against every other form of entertainment. “They’ve got countless other options. We have to reinvest, reinvigorate and really change these properties over into a tourism style experience,” like in Las Vegas, he said. Options include skill based games, daily fantasy sports and sports betting. “We have to constantly provide the new product,” he said. Other participants were: Duncan McKenzie, general manager, IP Casino Resort Spa; Wade Howk, vice president of operations, Boomtown Casino; Marcus Glover, general manager, Beau Rivage Resort & Casino; Larry Gregory, executive director, Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association and board member, American Gaming Association; and Cynthia Minton Walker, CEO, United Way of South Mississippi. The AGA has hosted similar events in Ohio, Iowa, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Michigan. The AGA says that across 40 states, casino gaming is a $240 billion industry that supports 1.7 million jobs and generates $38 billion in tax revenue.