GREENVILLE — It started innocently enough with a couple of signs posted on South Walnut Street that simply stated, “You Have Played the Rest, It’s Time to Play the Best. Coming in 2001: A New Casino by Progressive Gaming.”
Intrigued, business communities in Mississippi sought more information. But details of a third casino in Washington County remain a mystery.
When the Delta Democrat Times ran a news brief about the planned casino earlier this year, officials at the Mississippi Gaming Commission did not have any knowledge about the project.
They still don’t.
“We have not received an application for a license or even a letter of intent from Progressive Gaming,” said Ashley Skellie of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
Andy Bourland, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association, said he hasn’t heard anything about Progressive Gaming or a third casino in Greenville.
“They haven’t joined the association, I can tell you that,” he said.
“The investors are investigating the feasibility of opening a third casino in Greenville, but that’s all I know at that point,” Tommy Hart, executive vice president of the Industrial Foundation of Washington County Inc. “Things look good, they just need to do all of their due diligence.”
Greenville Mayor Paul Artman said he could not reveal details about the investors, but added they “know the market very well.”
“If it’s a quality venue, the community would benefit, particularly if it could add opportunity for new visitors, increase the market share a further distance,” Artman said. “We have made suggestions for a land-based investment that we feel would be excellent not only for their business, but for the community, and the investor group is entertaining those ideas.”
Those suggestions include diverse entertainment offerings and other special events, which coincide quite nicely with Washington County’s plans to position itself as a meeting destination, hoping for similar success that other Mississippi river cities with casino centers, such as Tunica and Vicksburg, have found. Plans do not include additional hotel rooms, primarily because the market is saturated, Artman said.
Artman said it was his understanding with investors that “the last time we visited, it was still scheduled for opening in 2001.”
Because revenues in the gaming industry in Mississippi have plateaued, Bourland said he doesn’t think there will be much new casino development in the state in the next two or three years.
“However, we’re seeing much more cooperative marketing strategies being employed on a regional basis, as well as collaboration between casinos and the state tourism office to jointly market Mississippi as a destination resort,” he said. “The real trend in Mississippi gaming seems to be the complete movement toward a resort destination status, a sense of providing more than just gaming, with restaurants, retail, entertainment, spas … all of that is the complete package that makes gaming in Mississippi and the state as a whole attractive to a broader reach of customers.”
Since gaming was legalized in Mississippi in 1992, Greenville has seen casinos come and go, even shift places, to adapt to the marketplace. Cotton Club Casino opened in Greenville Dec. 13, 1993, closed Oct. 30, 1995 to exchange locales with Jubilee.
Cotton Club was moved to Lakeshore and the Jubilee boat was moved to Greenville. At one point, Greenville had three casinos. More activity followed in an almost dizzying paper trail, but the end result is Greenville’s current gaming status of two casinos — Bayou Caddy’s Jubilee Casino, which has 413 employees with 28,500 square feet of gaming space, 1,177 slot games, 15 table games and three poker games; and Lighthouse Point Casino, which employs 380, has 22,000 square feet of gaming space, with 819 slot games and 15 table games, according to a Mississippi Gaming Commission report dated Dec. 31, 2000. Both casinos feature live entertainment and restaurants.
Greenville casino activity has served as a catalyst for numerous renovation and redevelopment projects, including the downtown entertainment district.
A walkway on Lake Ferguson from gambling boats leads to the district, which has been revitalized with the addition of restaurants, coffee shops and blues clubs and upgraded with period lamps, benches and landscaping.
In fact, Walnut Street is often referred to as “the Beale Street of the Mississippi Delta” because of its festivals and entertainment offerings.
City leaders agree a third casino would bring more jobs, additional tax revenues generated for the city and county and an increase in goods and services purchased locally. But whether or not the market could bear it remains to be seen.
Even though gaming revenues have increased gradually, Greenville and its sister river cities, Natchez and Vicksburg, have seen crowds gravitate toward larger casino markets, such as Tunica and the Gulf Coast.
“As Tunica County and the Gulf Coast become critical masses, people are more inclined to drive a little bit farther to get to those two markets than to the river counties,” said Chuck Patton, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.
With additional amenities continuing to pop up in Tunica County, Greenville finds itself looking for other ways to increase its visitorship.
“There are some concerns about spreading the market rather thin with the current business the casinos have now,” said Al Brock, owner of Remax of Greenville. “For a third casino to work well, new markets will have to be captured and we’ll need to draw more traveling traffic by selling Greenville as a destination, which city and county leaders have been doing quite well.”
Information on Progressive Gaming could not be found via an extensive Internet search, and the Secretary of State’s office did not have a corporate application on file at press time.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne Wilbanks Jeter at email@example.com or (601) 853-3967.