Coast gaming exceeds all expectations after 25 years

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - The coast is celebrating the silver anniversary of rolling the dice and playing the slots. Legal gaming came to the coast 25 years ago on Aug. 1, 1992.  Gaming industry insiders and many others can hardly believe how the big bet has paid off.

We've come a long way since the first little river boats churned into town, bringing the beginning of dockside gaming. Multimillion dollar resorts are now the norm. Michael Sunderman is a gaming publisher.

"I knew we had the potential down here, but I think it has far exceeded everyone's expectations. Resorts such as the Beau Rivage have set the standards throughout the southeast," Sunderman said.

The industry has brought in millions of visitors, according to Dr. John Kelly, with the City of Gulfport.

"When I moved to the coast in 1972, the coast was a tourist destination with no tourists. Today, I guarantee you we're competing with some of the best in the industry," said Kelly.

Some in the industry feel we're just at the beginning of a long winning streak. That includes the general manager of the IP Casino Resort, Duncan McKenzie.

"I've seen a lot of great positive change, and I can continue to see a lot of great positive change. I think we're not even halfway there. I think the next 25 years are going to be even brighter than the last," McKenzie gushed.

When Katrina ravaged the industry in 2005, tossing casino barges around like Tinkertoys, gaming moved on shore with the blessing of state lawmakers, even though it was a struggle. Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes was in the state senate at the time.

"It took us a long time, but our northern and central Mississippi legislators were willing to give us the help we needed," Hewes recalled.

With gaming, tourism reached a new peak. That's the opinion of Rich Westfall, a tourism volunteer.

"We had great restaurants opening. We had beautiful hotel rooms. We had banquet space. We had golf courses. The whole tourism industry just blossomed at that point," Westfall explained.

Our visitors are just as impressed, according to Gov. Phil Bryant.

"They marvel at what they see. These destination locations are far beyond, and I think what I imagined and most people did back in 1992."

Today, there's nothing imaginary about it.

Copyright 2017 WLOX. All rights reserved.