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Golden Nugget Casino GM reflects on approval of dockside gaming 30 years ago

Thirty years ago, Harrison County voters changed the game in South Mississippi. Approval of a dockside gaming referendum increased jobs and coast tourism.
Published: Mar. 10, 2022 at 10:16 PM CST
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BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Thirty years ago, Harrison County voters changed the game in South Mississippi. Approval of a dockside gaming referendum increased jobs on the coast, as well as tourism.

Golden Nugget Casino General Manager Chett Harrison said the industry thrived, so much so that he decided to return to the coast after college to be a part of it.

“Casinos kept a lot of us home. They came out after I graduated college and I’m a product of staying home because of this industry, which brings more employment with people having good paying jobs and insurance. It revitalized the area and it continues to grow,” said Harrison.

The first three riverboats were the Isle of Capri, the President Casino and the Biloxi Belle. Together they brought in $121 million the first five months they were in business.

As the casinos thrived, so did their employees.

“Being a dealer is a very good position once you learn the process. You go to dealer school around town, it usually takes about six to eight weeks to be trained for at least Black Jack and be on the floor. You make a very good living quickly,” said Harrison.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina delivered a devastating blow to Mississippi’s dockside gaming industry. The Legislature took action to change the state’s dockside gaming law, so floating casinos could be moved inland.

“It basically saved the industry. No one was willing to go back and spend $100 million on a vessel to have that happen again. Going on land in 2005 saved the industry and got the investment back into community. That probably would not have happened with, I would say, at least half that were here at the time of the hurricane,” said Harrison.

Harrison said the latest hurdle the industry must overcome is low employment due to the pandemic.

“We could sell out on the weekend, but we can’t during the week because it takes us until about Wednesday to get those rooms cleaned. So, if we had an employee base as an industry, we could probably be doing a lot better right now.”

As of January, the 10 Harrison County casinos reported 7,941 casino workers and 1,499 hotel workers.

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