Gaming Groups Join Hands

The Jackson-based Mississippi Gaming Association is merging with the Biloxi-based Mississippi Casino Operators Association. Beverly Martin will head the unified organization, which will be headquartered in Biloxi and have three geographic chapters.

``We have three main goals,'' Martin said Thursday. ``One will be image: to get our story out. The other will be to continue to address the regulatory issues that affect all the members. The third will be to put a face on the industry. ``It will be a public relations type campaign to better inform our elected officials. We need to get our story out on what gaming has done for the state of Mississippi,'' she said. The merger was announced Thursday by the presidents of the two associations: Biloxi Grand Casino General Manager Duncan McKenzie and Casino Magic Bay St. Louis General Manager John Jagunich. They said in a statement that a unified organization would better serve the interests of the casino industry and that the merger comes after several months of strategic planning.

The Mississippi Gaming Association had functioned as the lobbying arm for the industry. Now the Mississippi Casino Operators Association, which does business as the Gulf Coast Gaming Association, will take over that role. The organization will continue staging the annual Southern Gaming Summit under Martin's direction. The statement did not mention Andy Bourland, who was executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association. Bourland was the former public affairs manager for Beau Rivage Casino.

Beau Rivage pulled out of the Gaming Association earlier this month. Jeff Dahl, president and general manager of Beau Rivage, said the company was withdrawing membership when the association was ``beginning a process of self-examination.''