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Several factors might make dream a reality

Coast wants to be ‘the gaming capital of the South’

MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — Buoyed by the success of the recent Southern Gaming Summit and the largest gaming revenues in the history of Biloxi, the Mississippi Gulf Coast is forging ahead with efforts to become “the gaming capital of the South.”

The Southern Gaming Summit held in Biloxi was the largest ever, attracting more than 800 participants to discuss everything from how the industry can best respond to problems with compulsive gambling to Mirage Resorts president and CEO Barry Shier’s suggestion that marketing could be improved by changing the name of the Gulfport/Biloxi Regional Airport to the Gulf Coast International Airport.

Shier said that the Coast needs to work on attracting not just tourists but more workers to the Gulf Coast. Shier said that the Coast needs to let people elsewhere know that the Coast is a wonderful place to live and work, and a great place to raise a family. He said that unless more workers are attracted to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, any new resort developments will pull from the existing work force. The labor shortage that resulted after the opening of Beau Rivage has left many Coast businesses shorthanded.

Beau Rivage’s opening boosted Biloxi gambling revenues to $67.29 million in March, the largest monthly total ever. The previous record for Biloxi, $55.4 million, was set in January 1999.

“This is a clear indication that the arrival of Beau Rivage has accelerated the growth in the market,” said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway. “Frankly, this industry right here in Biloxi may be grossing a billion a year in gaming revenue alone in the near future. These new figures point out how extremely well the entire casino industry has performed here in Biloxi, and, as in the past, we expect the increased business to carry over into all sectors of our economy.”

Gaming industry officials say that, for some reason, March is traditionally a big month for gaming revenues throughout the state. The previous state record before March 1999 was March 1998.

Joe Coccimiglio, a gambling industry analyst with Prudential Securities, predicted at the gaming summit that the Mississippi Coast would emerge as “the gaming capital of the South.”

Coccimiglio said he believes the Coast has the edge over competing gambling markets because of its beach, location on water, the big-name companies that have a stake in the market and the amount of capital available for investments in gaming resorts. He said that the Coast has an enormous market with huge potential to grow over the next three to five years.

Attendance at the Southern Gaming Summit was more than double the previous record. The number of exhibitors also increased dramatically from 45 to 100.

“It was a really good show,” said Lori Hutzler, public relations manager, Isle of Capri Casino Crowne Plaza Resort. “The growth in one year is substantial. I think that gives some credibility to the growth of our market. A lot of people are now looking at the Mississippi Gulf Coast as a viable gaming destination, as well competition.”

The Southern Gaming Summit was held in early March the same week that the Building The Coast Symposium was held. Gaming was also a topic at Building The Coast. The speech by keynote speaker Ashby Foote III, president, Vector Money Management, Jackson, was titled, “The Mississippi Miracle, The Impact on Mississippi-based Companies”.

Foote said that Mississippi’s gaming industry has thrived while those in other states have been less successful because Mississippi got the business model right. Foote said Mississippi’s approach, providing a level playing field for all comers, has let casinos succeed or fail based on efforts to deliver a high-quality product.

“That has played a large role in the success of gaming in Mississippi,” Foote said. “That is part of the reason why we’ve been able to outpace other players in the gaming field, particularly in Louisiana where they have suffered because of a different approach by their government officials. Now that they’ve got these serious players down here, and are building facilities such as hotels, convention centers, golf courses and other destination type facilities, it sure looks like it should enjoy continued success and prosperity in the years ahead.”

Foote said another key point is that the Gulf Coast is really fortunate to have a diversified economy so it can buffer downturns in different parts of the economy such as the recent depression in the oil industry.


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