Gambling on hospitality as USM adds casino/resort management

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Published: November 29,2004

The University of Southern Mississippi recently added a third area of emphasis to its Tourism Management Program: casino/resort management.

“It’s incumbent on us as providers of educational services to make sure we’re offering educational opportunities to cover the entire tourism arena,” said Dr. Alvin Williams, interim program chair and a marketing professor at Southern Miss for 25 years. “That was the main motivation.”

The new addition to the program, which also includes an emphasis in hotel and restaurant management, has caught some flak from state officials. When Mississippi lawmakers failed to pass two bills in 2002 that would have allowed state-supported universities to teach gaming-related courses, Tulane University, a private university based in New Orleans, decided to open a branch in Biloxi to fill the demand for the courses. The University College is open for business in Edgewater Mall.

The Gulf Coast business community has been anxious to see Southern Miss join Tulane in providing courses relative to the coast’s 17,000-employee casino industry.

“Much of this was in the hopper well before Tulane started its program,” said Williams.

In April, attorney general Jim Hood released an opinion stating “section 75-76-34 (1) of the Mississippi Code of 1972, as amended, clearly prohibits the IHL (Institutions of Higher Learning) Board from authorizing the training of ‘persons to be gaming employees’ and prohibits such courses from being taught on ‘publicly-owned property.’”

“IHL attorneys have already filed motions in Hinds County to get to the bottom of this,” said Dr. Joe C. Hutchinson, former program chair, now interim chair of the Gulf Coast Division of Business. “There’s some political pressure because this is the last battle that legislators opposed to gaming have left to fight. If it is against the law for the IHL board to authorize these courses, which are management-related only, then why is there an IHL board? This is an authority issue more than anything.”

In the meantime, core business courses of the program are being taught on Hattiesburg and Gulf Coast campuses. Hotel and restaurant management programs are based in Hattiesburg; the casino-related management courses will be taught on the Gulf Coast campus.

“The casino/resort component is still in limbo,” said Williams. “Some of the courses we hope to include at some point will cover casino/resort operations management, regulatory/legal aspects and marketing and financial analysis. As you can tell, these are very managerially-focused areas of coverage.”

With the exception of a couple of courses required during sophomore and junior years, nearly all core major courses will be taken during the senior year, which buys time for students who entered fall classes on the Gulf Coast campus seeking an emphasis in casino/resort management, said Hutchinson.

The Tourism Management Program was derived from the School of Home Economics’ Food Management Program, which was established in the late 1960s. After it evolved to restaurant management, Southern Miss broadened the program to include hotel management. The program also attracted students with an interest in conventions and exhibition management.

“After scanning our marketplace, and given the increase of gaming on the Gulf Coast, we felt it was important to broaden our scope even more and thus we changed the program to tourism management,” said Williams. “It is now located in the School of Business so there’s a very strong business focus and that’s extremely important for preparing our students for that industry.”

Internships with corporations like Disney World and Beau Rivage “give students a pretty good looking resume when they finish school,” said Hutchinson.

The Tourism Management Program has “a tremendous placement rate,” added Williams.

“We have a strong and rich tradition of placing students with nationally recognized firms in the food industry and hotel sector,” he said. “The demand for our graduates is extremely high. There’s tremendous opportunity globally in the tourism industry and we want to prepare our students for those opportunities.”

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

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