MISSISSIPPI GULF COAST — While Coast casinos push for gaming classes, and lawmakers hold firm on their resolve to deny them, business leaders debate about what can be done to bring the two parties together.
“I am very much in favor of being able to teach gaming-related courses, so long as they do not have anything to do with teaching people to gamble. We need to be clear on that,” said Dr. Olon Ray, executive director of the Mississippi Association of Community and Junior Colleges. “Gaming is a major employment source. The state needs to be involved in the training picture just as we would for any other business. We are certainly in a position to be very helpful in training people how to do gaming-specific professional programs.”
Almost 35,000 jobs in the state are casino-related, said state economist Phil Pepper.
“These jobs, their associated salaries and related activities of the casinos, generate additional jobs and tax revenues in the state,” Pepper said. “It is estimated that the 35,000 gaming jobs in the state create about 15,000 jobs elsewhere in the state through the multiplier effect. Additional revenues are generated for state and local governments by taxes paid by both casino and related workers.”
In FY2000, the 8% gaming tax will generate about $150 million, or 4.4%, of the general fund, Pepper said.
“Almost $100 million will go to local governments and $50 million for highway construction,” he said. “About 40% of these revenues are generated on the Gulf Coast and 60% along the Mississippi River.”
Between 1992 and 1997, Mississippi led the nation in service industry job growth, according to the U.S. Commerce Department Census Bureau report released last month. Gambling provided the state with a 66.9% gain in employment.
“One of the ironies is that schools from other states can set up shop and teach the very courses that are critical, but our own schools in Mississippi cannot,” said Andy Bourland, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association. “The University of Nevada-Las Vegas and the University of Houston, for example, can come into the state, make money off those courses, and provide the education Mississippians need.”
Kelly “Kelso” Smith, assistant director of entertainment at Beau Rivage in Biloxi, said most casino employees, like him, were trained in other states.
“Something definitely needs to be done to keep up with the job openings in the industry,” Smith said.
Cynthia Joachim of Century 21 Harry J. Joachim Inc. in Biloxi, said when businesses provide quality service as a result of a qualified employee, consumers win, employers profit and employees are marketable entities.
“For years, Mississippi has battled losing its best and brightest college students and skilled labor because there were no job opportunities,” Joachim said. “Now the job opportunities are here and we must provide a responsive and well trained labor force. Why anyone would object to training people for gaming jobs is a mystery to me. Whether you like gaming or not, whether you supported the legislative initiative or not, the fact remains that its economic impact demands that its labor force be trained. Why not train them in the state so that the workers will stay in the state?”
Dr. Clyde Muse, president of Hinds Community College in Raymond, said the state is obligated to provide some training.
“Gaming is a legal industry operating under the laws and regulations of the state, and is generating a considerable amount of jobs and money, helping to drive the economic engine,” Muse said. “I do not, however, want to be involved in the actual training of the gaming tables as such, but when it comes to maintenance and repair of electronic equipment, bookkeeping, security, culinary arts, and all the other things related to gaming other than running the casino itself, we need to be involved. We have a role to play. A lot of people don’t agree with that, and that’s one of the reasons the Legislature doesn’t pass the laws.”
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at firstname.lastname@example.org or (601) 853-3967.