Chuck Patton took over the executive director`s job at the Mississippi Gaming Commission July 1 after being unanimously endorsed by gaming commissioners when Paul Harvey resigned from the post.
Patton had previously served as deputy director. He talked recently with the Mississippi Business Journal about the agenda and challenges of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
Mississippi Business Journal: In only five years since its inception, the state casino industry has grown to the third largest gaming market in the country. What goals and plans are on your agenda as you take over the new post of executive director?
Chuck Patton: The agency is running quite well and the greatest compliment to me would be if no one notices General Harvey is no longer the executive director. General Harvey crafted what has become known as one of the premier gaming regulatory agencies in the United States. I have no plans to revamp what he built or make any major philosophical changes. (We) worked closely on a regulatory structure and that will remain (in place).
Some of the issues that began under his watch will continue under mine. Those include the addition of more auditors to our staff; it is the best way to hold the casinos accountable. We are adding personnel in our gaming laboratory. The lab, established in Biloxi, is important to insure the quality and integrity of the games we put in the casinos.
MBJ: Former executive director Paul Harvey encountered criticism from state officials, such as the legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review committee, who thought the agency was “too close” to the casinos it regulated. Do you intend to handle procedures in a different manner?
CP: So far, no one has been able to specifically point out what that means or show us any particular incident in which the gaming commission is too close to the industry. If anyone can show us where we have been negligent or remiss in our duties, please let us hear from you. We want to know if there is any way we can improve or do our jobs better.
MBJ: How do you see the future of the gaming industry on a state and national level?
CP: In Mississippi, at least for the near term, we will continue to see solid, near double-digit growth. In the long term, Mississippi will continue to be a viable market.
Several large Las Vegas operators are showing an interest in coming to our state and that tells us the augmentation of the industry is not stagnating and that, long term, they see the coastal area becoming an international tourist destination.
We probably will not see an increase in the number of casinos, we will probably stay around 30, but we will see the scope of the operations get larger and larger.
Nationally, we have seen a leveling off with Michigan being the only new gaming jurisdiction in the past couple of years. This allows Mississippi to further establish itself as a true destination resort market.
MBJ: How confident are you that organized crime will continue to stay out of our jurisdiction?
CP: We have worked very hard during the past five plus years to keep undesirable individuals out of the gaming industry in Mississippi and that will not change. I am very confident that we have weeded out the criminals and organized crime from the casinos and I plan to remain vigilant to keep it that way.
MBJ: What are you looking forward to the most?
CP: I am looking forward to the day-to-day challenges, which are presented to the executive director of the third largest gaming jurisdiction in America.
MBJ: What are you looking forward to the least?
CP: The gaming industry in Mississippi has grown faster than anyone ever expected. So far I have not found anything that is unpleasant about this job because of the challenges that are presented as we work with an industry that continues to grow.
MBJ: What changes do you recommend in the Vicksburg market to increase market share?
CP: Vicksburg is in a tough position with the Silver Star to its northeast and Monroe, La. to its west. The real challenge comes down to providing entertainment amenities and marketing the properties to attract people from greater distances.
MBJ: How do you feel about the efforts to build a casino on the Big Black River between Jackson and Vicksburg?
CP: With the issue tied up in the courts I do not feel it would be appropriate to comment on that right now.
MBJ: What are your thoughts on efforts to repeal gambling in the state?
CP: Mississippi`s initiative law allows the citizens of the state a direct say in the policy and direction of the state, and from that standpoint, I think it is a very good law. I do have a concern about the law being used to go back on commitments made to casino corporations that have come to our state and invested literally billions of dollars. For that reason, I am concerned about the timing of this proposal.
MBJ: If the recall effort is successful, what ramification would you see for the state as a result?
CP: The latest estimates show Mississippi gets about 10% or $300 million directly from the gaming industry and related taxes (sales and income). If gaming were abolished, that revenue source would be cut off and the state`s leadership would be forced to come up with that money from another source