Two new casinos are on the horizon for the Gulf Coast; good news for the sluggish gaming industry and the state’s economy in general. Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort will be the first gaming property for the city of D’Iberville which has been trying to secure a casino for 20 years. Rotate Black’s Hemingway Resort Casino will be the second gaming facility in Gulfport. With 12 gaming properties currently operating on the Coast — 10 of them in Harrison County, what different amenities are these new casinos bringing to the market?
State Gaming Commission Chairman John Hairston said in answer to that question, “Scarlet Pearl would add to the skyline as viewed from I-10, as well as offering a mini-golf attraction on the scale of a destination amenity like Big Kahuna in Destin. The proposed Hemingway Hotel in Gulfport would be the first Mississippi Coast 4-star hotel.”
Allen Godfrey, Gaming Commission executive director, agrees that both properties should add to the amenities presently offered in the area, each bringing something new.
Rotate Black, Inc., a premier development and management company of resort and casino properties, reports that its affiliate Rotate Black MS, LLC, has received an Approval to Proceed from the Mississippi Gaming Commission for its planned Hemingway Resort and Casino, a $130 million development. The casino resort, when completed, will include a 35,000-square-foot gaming floor, 205-room hotel, buffet, steakhouse, café, feature bar, luxury pool and a lounge overlooking the newly renovated marina in Gulfport’s small craft harbor at the intersection of U.S. Highways 49 and 90.
Developers of the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort plan a miniature golf course and 300 hotel rooms in addition to the gambling hall which will be located on the Back Bay of Biloxi east of Interstate 110.
Other amenities planned include a 250-seat buffet, 75-seat gourmet restaurant, 140-seat coffee shop, 11-seat noodle shop and a food truck near the miniature golf course; a 472-seat event center; 2,200 square feet of gift shop and retail space; and 15,000 square feet of outdoor space with a pool.
Both proposed properties were approved before new gaming regulations went into effect January 1. “The D’Iberville casino would meet the new regulations even if they had chosen to seek approval in January, and the Gulfport property came in under the old regulations,” Godfrey said. “It’s tough to answer if the free market system is still the best approach for Mississippi, but time will tell if any new properties that get built will generate new revenue and grow the market or take market share away from existing properties.”
Hairston says that although the commission operated inside its prior regulation to require more robust amenities than previously contemplated, the reason is very clear: another few hundred slot machines will draw no new visitors to a gaming market. “The compelling reason visitors will choose the Coast is due to a broad offering of varied experiences that generate multi-night stays,” he said. “If we can successfully convince visitors to come a day early, or stay a day late, the benefit to the coastal economy is dramatic.
“Visitors stay longer because there are more experiences, not because there are more copies of the same experience. The Gaming Commission warmly welcomes ideas for amenities from the various tourism organizations in all markets and hopes that tourism organizations will partner with the Mississippi Gaming Association (run by gaming operators) to discuss investments for both existing and new casinos. Tourism markets are competing with each other for visitor interest. The winning markets will be the ones with the best cooperation and teamwork.”
Hairston, an executive with Hancock Bank, says growth is not being experienced in the Tunica gaming market because that destination was built as a single value proposition — gaming. “The overall visitor experience must be broadened for Tunica to rebound. It can be done, but not by creating more casinos. In my opinion, the investments should be in amenities.”