Gaming Summit Back In Biloxi

The coast economy is about to get a huge shot in the arm. The Southern Gaming Summit is back in Biloxi. And if you ask anybody affiliated with the event, they'll tell you, its return to the Coliseum Convention Center is a sign that meeting planners want their delegates in south Mississippi.

The biggest hurdle plaguing the convention center is space. The storm took away hotel rooms. And it put a 2004 expansion project on hold. The latest plan is for the convention center to double in size in 2009.

As for 2007, the Southern Gaming Summit opens Wednesday. And close to 2,000 delegates are supposed to be there.

One of the slot machines in the gaming summit's expo hall plays the song, "It's raining cash" every time a player goes to the bonus balls. That forecast is a pretty accurate prediction of how people feel with the Southern Gaming Summit back in Biloxi.

Larry Higbee is from New Jersey. He's a regular visitor to the event.

"We feel you know a sense of wanting to participate in the recovery," he said, explaining why returning to Biloxi was so important.

A year ago, technicians sent their gaming crates to Tunica County, because south Mississippi was in no condition to host a convention of this size. With the convention center up and running again, the gaming summit came home. Paula April oversees this convention for the Mississippi Coast Coliseum.

"I think for the area, it makes a major statement, because this is definitely a power group," she said.

April said luring conventions to the shores of Mississippi is still not as easy as it once was. The area has fewer hotel rooms for delegates than it did before Katrina. And right now, it has a lot less meeting space. However, next week, the Biloxi Planning Commission will discuss an overlay district plan for the area along Highway 90 between Veterans Avenue and Debuys Road. And if that gamble works, it could increase room inventory.

Mike Fitzpatrick is a Biloxi councilman who supports the overlay concept.

"It will greatly help bring those hotels back into that district," he said.

And April said that would benefit the convention center and its clients.

"I mean this show is a classic example. They want to grow and they can't grow," she said.

If the convention center overlay district is adopted, and a convention center expansion is completed by 2009, April expects events like the Southern Gaming Summit to become bigger and better.

"It's exciting because people still want to come here. We're still a major destination," she said.

There are three large groups booked in the convention center between now and July first. Starting in July, the convention center will be closed, and renovated. It should reopen in early 2008.