The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians aimed high when landing Maj. Gen. Paul A. Harvey as the new president and CEO of its Pearl River Resort.
Choctaw Tribal Miko Beasley Denson and the Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise (CRDE) board of directors announced November 5 that Harvey, the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s inaugural executive director who retired from the U.S. Air Force after a 32-year career that included commanding Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, would take the reins of the tribe’s gaming, hotel and resort holdings.
“I feel confident that Gen. Harvey’s strong background of knowledge and enthusiasm will provide the leadership needed to continue the tribe’s efforts in making Pearl River Resort one of the top gaming and resort destinations in the country,” said Denson.
Most recently, Harvey has served as president of PDH Associates Inc., which provides consulting services to the gaming, hotel and resort industry. Harvey is a member of the board of directors for Riviera Holdings Company Inc., Progressive Gaming International Corporation, Elixir Gaming Technologies Inc. and is a former member of the National Center for Responsible Gaming. He will soon end his post as a board member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians Athletic and Boxing Commission.
Bob Engram, Stuart Irby and Bill Gresham, whom Gov. Kirk Fordice appointed as the inaugural gaming commissioners, hired Harvey in 1993. He was credited with ensuring the infrastructure requirement for casinos to invest equally in hotel rooms and gaming boats, a move that transformed Tunica County from the poorest county in the nation to the third-largest gaming market in the country — and dramatically boosted economic development in Mississippi.
The Mississippi Business Journal spoke to Harvey on Election Day 2007, as the fate of the Choctaws’ entry into Jackson County’s gaming market was being decided by voters. He discussed the “good things to come” for Pearl River Resort in Choctaw, which includes Golden Moon Hotel & Casino, Silver Star Hotel & Casino, Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, Geyser Falls Water Theme Park, Clearwater Key and The Beach Club.
Mississippi Business Journal: What priorities/goals have the Choctaws outlined for you?
Maj. Gen. Paul Harvey: There’s nothing really specific to talk about. In general terms, we’ve definitely discussed moving Pearl River Resort operations to the next level. We’ll be looking at some options very shortly, but for now, I’m awfully new. In a few weeks, I’ll have a better feel for it.
MBJ: Any teasers about what’s to come?
PH: We want to expand our gaming and hotel operations by penetrating new markets and nurturing existing ones. We have very loyal customers, but we want to invigorate our customer base.
MBJ: How can you draw more people to Pearl River Resort without bringing them directly by air?
PH: We have quite a bit of activity with our limousine service from the Jackson International Airport. I think the field of operation in Philadelphia is about 7,000 feet, open for smaller commuter-type operations. When you think about Allegiant Air that flies between Las Vegas and Gulfport, and flight traffic into Tunica through Memphis, we’re not in that situation at this point in time.
But we’re exploring that area to see if there’s a possibility to capture that piece of the market. Realistically, regardless of what anyone says within the industry, any time you get into the charter regional type of business, it’s incredibly expensive — for the casino and the customer. Being an old Air Force guy and a pilot, I’m partial to getting into that mode of travel. We’re chatting with some people right now, very preliminary, very cursory … to get some ideas from experts in that part of the market.
MBJ: What are the differences between the Choctaw gaming experience and the state-licensed experience, and why is this position more to your liking?
PH: Starting and regulating an organization like we did in Mississippi in 1993 with three new commissioners and a new director is a lot different than taking an existing property and operating it. State government is quite different from the private sector concerning how you do business. The three gaming companies that I sit on (the board of directors), it’s very clear that publicly-traded companies in the private sector in the profit motive involves a totally different set of moves than federal and state government. Between the two, I enjoy the private sector more, even though I spent 32 years in the Air Force and six years in state government and enjoyed it thoroughly. The private sector is just more exciting.
MBJ: When Gov. Kirk Fordice died, you mentioned that while running the gaming commission for six years, “Gov. Fordice stayed out of our hair” and that you had “great respect for that. I only received three business calls from him, and those were only in response to a constituent asking him something.” What kind of oversight do you expect from tribal leaders?
PH: That was Gov. Fordice’s management style. If you were doing your job, he left you alone. I’d hate to be somebody not doing my job around him. Friendships could end very quickly if you weren’t going about your business. I’ve not dealt with Gov. Haley Barbour, though I greatly respect him.
I’ve known Miko (Denson) for quite some time. He was on the gaming commission from just about the time we started it. My read in the last couple of months of being in discussions with him, I think he’s very open to change and to growth and to discussion. I find him an absolute delight to work with. I enjoyed Chief Martin, as well. I spent many hours sitting next to him ringside when we were both on the Choctaws Athletic and Boxing Commission. They’re both fine men. I have great respect for the new chief.
MBJ: You ran for Congress as a Republican candidate. Any other political aspirations?
PH: The only thing I aspire to do … is not to get into politics. I had my one adventure, and I enjoyed it. I loved campaigning. I loved the people. Fundraising’s not a lot of fun. But to get out and meet people was dynamite. I don’t have any plans right now. Just turning 70, I don’t see that a political career is really something I want to mess with.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.