BILOXI — There’s few things more refreshing than a splash of cold Gulf of Mexico water in your face while visiting a Mississippi beach. Larry Gregory hopes participants in next week’s Southern Gaming Summit will leave Biloxi with that same sensation about casinos in Mississippi.
Gregory is executive director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, a major sponsor of the summit, a gathering of industry leaders from the Southern region and across the country. The event is May 6-8 at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi. For more information on the summit and for registration options and pricing, visit www.sgsummit.com/
In addition to the more than 100 vendors on the expo floor, the summit also offers two days of education conferences ranging from the latest games to marketing strategies.
“I think the speakers we have at this year’s gaming Southern Gaming Summit are going to showcase some of the leaders in our industry and tell the story of what we have and were we need to go,” said Gregory.
For the last eight years, a variety of punches — the explosion of gaming nationwide, an economic recession, Hurricane Katrina, The 2011 Mississippi River Floods — have staggered Mississippi’s 30 state-regulated casino and one American Indian resort. While the northwest corner of the state has been hit hardest and continues to suffer, the Gulf Coast is being resuscitated with the help of casinos owners who have made large-scale investments in an attempt to keep the area tourist destination site.
“Everyone knows we’ve got to get away from casinos being just a slot machine place,” said Gregory. “Those days are over. There have to be incentives to get tourists to return.
“We’ve see marketing on the Gulf Coast that takes in the whole tourism package. Just look at the entertainment every weekend and look at the investments the casinos have made there.
Among those investments are a just-completed $100 million-plus renovation at the Golden Nugget, $50 million to restore the Katrina-damaged hotel tower at the Island View in Gulfport, about $30 million for a new hotel tower at the Hard Rock in Biloxi, $17 million for a hotel at the Silver Slipper in Bay St. Louis, and a new $36 million minor league baseball stadium which opens next year across from the Beau Rivage.
“I think It’s like splashing cold water on your face,” said Gregory. “We’re waking up. We’re waking up to see the challenges we’re facing in Alabama, Louisiana and Florida, and we have to stay current.
“I think you’re going to see this come out with our speakers, people like State Rep. Richard Bennett, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, Tilman Fertitta (owner of Landrys, Inc., and the Golden Nugget), and Geoff Freeman, president of the American Gaming Association. We have Chief Phyllis Anderson of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and Holly Gagnon from Pearl River Resort. We also have representatives of the manufacturing industry and slot machine companies.”
While the Gulf Coast has seen a slight uptick in gross gaming revenue (the casino’s profit after subtracting payouts from wagers) in the first three months, the Mississippi River casinos have seen a 5 percent drop in that same period — extending a trend that surfaced during the spring floods of 2011.
Those problems will also be a topic of discussion, especially since Caesar’s Entertainment said it will be closing it’s Tunica Harrah’s casino — the largest of the Tunica-area casinos — on June 2.
“We saw the loss of Harrah’s,” said Gregory. “What I hope to see over the next year is a lot of smart people putting on their thinking caps and deciding where to go from here.
“What I think is that we’ll see is a change in Tunica. We may see less casinos in the market, but that’s not a bad thing. I think you’ll see a different model. I think you’ll see a smaller scale market. With a smaller market you’ll see more creative ideas to entice people. It’s evolving.”