Harrah's Gamble Could Change Mississippi Casinos

According to Len Blackwell, "The worst thing you can have is a monopoly." Yet that's what the Mississippi Gaming Commissioner fears will happen if Harrah's gobbles up every Caesars Entertainment property in the state. "In our free enterprise model in Mississippi, you just have to have robust competition for it to work," Blackwell said.

Blackwell worries that competition between casinos will suffer if the new Harrah's Caesar's merger puts Grand Casino Gulfport, Grand Casino Biloxi, and five Tunica properties under one ownership umbrella. "Our job as the gaming commission would be to protect the state of Mississippi," he said.

The gaming commission must approve the Harrah's merger. However, because his term expires September 30, Len Blackwell will probably be off the board when that vote comes up. Blackwell said if he was still on the commission at that time, he would consider forcing the new company to sell some of its Mississippi resorts.

John Ferrucci says that's not a bad idea.

Ferrucci spent the last decade working at four south Mississippi casinos. Now, he's a consultant for the industry. In his view, the Harrah's merger is a good gamble. "For Mississippi, I think it's good," Ferrucci said. "I think anytime you create synergy and growth, it's a good thing."

Ferrucci believes the merger will force Grand properties on the coast to develop a relationship with Harrah's New Orleans. And that will bring even more tourists to South Mississippi casinos.

It could take a year for federal and state agencies to approve the casino merger.