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A Mississippi Business Journal Q&A

Beau Rivage chief talks gaming changes, challenges

Biloxi — By the time Jeff Dahl was named president and COO of Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, the 20-year veteran had worked at five Gulf Coast casinos.

In addition to serving in executive positions for Casino Magic Biloxi, Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, Palace Casino, Treasure Bay Casino and Grand Casino Resorts on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Dahl was general manager of Primadonna Corp. of Stateline, Nev., and held various financial positions with The Mirage Casino Hotel & Golden Nugget. He was named president and COO of the 1,740-room Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in 2000.

Under his leadership, Beau Rivage has taken a lead position in the Mississippi Gulf Coast gaming industry on diversity issues and proactively hires and promotes minorities, and contracts with minority-owned contractors and vendors.

The Mississippi Business Journal asked Dahl about plans on the drawing board for Beau Rivage, his thoughts on expected changes in the competitive landscape with the MGM-Mandalay and Caesar’s-Harrah’s mergers, the push for in-land gaming in Mississippi, and why Beau Rivage quit the Mississippi Gaming Association.

Mississippi Business Journal: Steve Wynn, who transformed the Las Vegas landscape during the 1990s, gambled $650 million to invest in the Mississippi Gulf Coast casino market with Beau Rivage. In May 2000, MGM Grand Inc. acquired Mirage Resorts, including Beau Rivage for $480 million, the largest acquisition ever in the gaming industry, creating MGM Mirage. How is success measured, and what other changes have been made since the resort opened in 1999?

Jeff Dahl: MGM Mirage is now in the process of acquiring Mandalay Resort Group for $7.9 billion. Once the deal closes, MGM Mirage will own and operate 28 properties in Nevada, Mississippi, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey. It will have more than 70,000 employees, the fifth-largest convention center in the U.S., and will cater to a broad customer base. The biggest casino deal in history is expected to be complete in the first quarter of 2005.

In addition to ownership, changes too numerous to count have taken place at Beau Rivage over the past five years. We are committed to providing the highest level of customer service, so the resort is in a constant state of evolution and improvement. Since opening, we’ve expanded and added new restaurants including Port House, Mikado and the buffet. We installed our own “cook and chill” food processing system. We’ve gone through a $10-million suite upgrade, growing our number of suites to 95. We’ve opened new retail stores, expanded the Players Club, converted to a coinless slot system, made modifications to the spa and salon, front valet and improvements to our marina.

We’ve changed our philosophy on entertainment, rotating our production shows more frequently and offering more headline entertainment. Beau Rivage is committed to being the premier entertainment resort in the region. In 2004, we hosted 45 headliners and five production shows.

MBJ: How will your company’s cross marketing strategies change with the MGM-Mandalay merger?

JD: The MGM-Mandalay merger will immediately create synergies, especially with convention business and opening up other opportunities.

MBJ: What changes do you foresee on the Gulf Coast as a result of the Caesar’s-Harrah’s merger?

JD: I think the merger will be good for the market. When recognizable, well-capitalized companies such as Harrah’s bring their financial and management resources into a market, it creates stability. It will make the Mississippi Gulf Coast more competitive as a gaming destination.

MBJ: What expansion plans are on the drawing board for Beau Rivage?

JD: Construction is underway on an 18-hole championship golf course and clubhouse located on 510 acres on Highway 15, fifteen miles north of Beau Rivage. Designed by Tom Fazio, who did Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, this course will be on a different level than anything currently in the region, and will cost in excess of $30 million. It will be ready for play in early 2006.

MBJ: What is your opinion on efforts by some state officials to push for inland gaming in Mississippi?

JD: Businesses like ours have many options in which to invest our capital, and like all businesses, we tend to be risk averse and the greatest risks are an uncertain environment, regulatory climate and tax structure.

When we know what the rules are, we can make intelligent investment decisions and that is what we found in Mississippi when we decided to invest here.

Rules shouldn’t be changed mid-stream. Gaming companies choosing to do business in Mississippi understand the rules and are willing to comply with them. If a hurricane the strength of Ivan hits the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it isn’t simply the gaming industry that will suffer, the entire community will be impacted.

MBJ: Why did Beau Rivage pull out of the Mississippi Gaming Association?

JD: The Beau Rivage in committed to building a strong community and developing a good working relationship with our government officials. This commitment was demonstrated this year when our employees raised $280,000 for 93 charities in Mississippi and was recognized last year when the Beau Rivage was awarded the first-ever Governor’s Cup and named Mississippi’s Outstanding Large Business.
In order to further focus our community and government efforts, we decided to resign our membership in the Mississippi Gaming Association. We believe this will put us in a better position to address issues affecting our company rather than being a member of an association made up of many and divergent interests.

We’ll use our own voice to communicate with our community and government leaders and focus our resources on accomplishing goals that will directly benefit our company, employees and customers.
We will continue working with the Mississippi Gaming Association in the future on select projects of mutual interest.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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