What does the future look like for gaming in MS? - WLOX.com - The News for South Mississippi

What does the future look like for gaming in MS?

Mississippi Gaming Commission (Photo source: WLOX) Mississippi Gaming Commission (Photo source: WLOX)
BILOXI, MS (WLOX) -

Nobody you asked 25 year ago would even imagine our dockside casinos would become a $2 billion a year industry. It has, but in the casino world, success is only as good as the next bet that someone places. If people stop betting because they have other options elsewhere, the big bet could go bust.

A quarter century of gaming on the coast is like a quarter going into a slot machine. It represents hope. It represents prosperity. And for 25 years, it has represented a way of life for thousands of workers and millions of visitors. 

In 25 years, 52 casinos opened around the state. Twenty-eight are still in business. Will there be more? 

Several projects are on the radar screen from Biloxi to Gulfport. Even Long Beach is considering the gaming option, but it's not a sure bet, according to the Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, Allen Godfrey.

“I think there's only so much growth available, given where we are and given the proposition for competition around,” said Godfrey.  

Around us includes Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. All are considering expanding the gaming footprint. That’s something that worries gaming commissioner Al Hopkins.

“I think the future looks good as long as there's not activity in adjoining states that would cause us issues. That will depend on those states,” Hopkins said. 

If casinos come to those states, what happens here? Godfrey has a theory.

“The industry has to continue to reinvest, has to continue to give a reason for that individual, that person, that family to come to Mississippi,” Godfrey said. 

Meanwhile, state casinos pay 12 percent in taxes, but every year, state lawmakers talk about increasing that tax bite. Many in the business don't think that's a good idea, including Godfrey.

“I'd like to think that what would be spent in tax would be reinvested in the properties and amenities that would bring people here, which would end up in additional sales tax income,” Godfrey explained. 

The next big bet will possibly be legal wagering on sports, but not anytime soon, according to Hopkins.

“That will have to be decided by the federal government, the federal courts, and until that decision is made, there won't be any sports betting in Mississippi.” 

The old days of casino gaming are coming to an end, because millennials represent future customers, and they want something different. Michael Cavanaugh is a gaming industry attorney.

“They want interactive. They don't stop for a minute without their cell phone, or their iPhone. They want the activity, and they want to participate in it,” said Cavanaugh. 

Speaking of participating, eSports and actual video gaming may be the next big thing. It's already up and running in Vegas, and Cavanaugh is impressed.

“There's going to be $20 billion wagered on eSports by the year 2020. It's amazing, and the challenge to the market is how do you quantify. How do you make book, so to speak,” Cavanaugh said. 

One thing gaming officials hope will never change is the lack of a large-scale corruption scandal in Mississippi. It's never happened, and Godfrey knows why.  

“The governors have appointed really good commissioners who, in turn, hired good staff below them, and I think we're very diligent. We've learned a lot in the 25 years,” said Godfrey. 

They’re lessons that have proven themselves invaluable since 1992. 

One other thing that bodes well for the future of gaming on the coast is revenues here have been rising for the past several months.  However, that's not the case for the river jurisdictions, where gaming revenues are stagnant or even declining.

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