Sen. Gollott recalls the birth of coast gaming - - The News for South Mississippi

Sen. Gollott recalls the birth of coast gaming

Biloxi senator Tommy Gollott (Photo source: WLOX) Biloxi senator Tommy Gollott (Photo source: WLOX)
Biloxi senator Tommy Gollott (Photo source: WLOX) Biloxi senator Tommy Gollott (Photo source: WLOX)

This week marks the 25th anniversary of legal gaming in Mississippi, but every story has a starting point. We can trace the initial bet that legalized the industry to the floor of the Mississippi Senate. 

That's where Biloxi Sen. Tommy Gollott reworked legislation, twisted a few arms, and hit the jackpot. In gambling terms, he placed a bet with very long odds, and won, making the impossible a reality. 

The year was 1990. Many of the seafood plants in Gollott's district had shut their doors. People were out of work, and the economy needed a jolt. Jobs were one issue, but so was something else.

“We had illegal gambling going on along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and I wanted to legalize it, because all the money was going to the black market, which was not going to the state,” Gollott recalled. 

He believed gaming could provide a spark, but it was a tough sell to his colleagues in this Bible belt state, despite the prospect of new tax money.

“They love the money, but a lot of them hate the gambling.” 

Gollott said that resistance was everywhere.

“When I came with the legislation, one of my colleges, he would get up and challenge me on all of it, and he said there was no way that you're going to bring in $25 million or $30 million a year,” said Gollott. 

The legislation allowing dockside gaming did pass after two tries, with many lawmakers calling in sick the day of the vote. It was a tribute to Gollott's influence.

That allowed citizens a chance to vote. In December of 1990, Hancock County said yes, Harrison County said no. The economy got worse, and a second vote in Harrison County in March of 1992 passed with 57 percent. 

The first boats arrived later that year in time for an Aug. 1 opening. Gollott will never forget that day.

“I knew Bernie Goldstein. He was the owner of the Isle of Capri. I went to see him, and he asked me to throw the first legal dice in the State of Mississippi.” 

Goldstein was blown away on opening night, according to Gollott.

“There were thousands and thousands of people that showed, and he said this place is a goldmine in this area. Right after he said that, and right after that, the rest of the casinos started showing up,” said Gollott. 

When they did show up, Gollott had a message for them.

“I took them all around the coast and showed them what we had, and said you can make it here as well as you're making it in Vegas and these other areas that you're in.”

Money poured in, and so did jobs over the years. More than 15,000 jobs came to the coast. Gollott is proud of that.

“We have worked a lot of our people into the gaming industry, and it's worked very well for Mississippi.”

Something else has worked as well; increasing tax revenues well above what anyone ever dreamed possible in Mississippi.  

“25 years of gaming and $24 billion have come into the State of Mississippi,” said Gollott.

Now, after several years of declines, gaming revenues on the coast are steadily climbing once again. 

Gollott also believes the current tax structure for the gaming industry should stay the same, despite efforts by some lawmakers to raise the tax rate. It's currently at 12 percent with 8 percent going to the state and 4 percent going to local governments and school systems.

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