The gaming industry on the Gulf Coast and around the country is going through a change. As competition increases, many casinos are being forced to close their doors. In an effort to keep the Mississippi gaming market thriving, some are calling for changes in the state's regulations.
Across the county, many casinos are closing their doors due to over saturation in their markets. Two casinos in Mississippi, Harrah's Tunica and Margaritaville Biloxi have announced their departure, causing some gaming and tourism officials to believe it’s time for Mississippi to wake up and fix this problem before it gets worse.
Webster Franklin, the President of Tunica Travel, says, "We need to somehow devise a plan that can help us remain competitive, and the first step in doing that is number one, realize there is a problem and number two, realizing that the industry, being the gaming industry, has meant so much to this state and to the economic wellbeing of our state."
Franklin says the regulations that were put in place back in the early 90s are now outdated. Franklin also says, "The first casinos opened in August on the Gulf Coast in 1992 and October of 1992 here in Tunica and at that point, you could gamble in Nevada and Atlantic City. Today, every American is within two hours of a casino. There is competition everywhere and we're still operating under the same model we were in 1992."
In order to combat the competition on their own, many Gulf Coast casinos are reinvesting in their properties. Island View Casino in Gulfport is spending $58 million to provide more hotel rooms for tourists. Cathy Beeding MacKenzie, Vice President and General Counsel of Island View Casino, says, "We're responsible for bringing in, I hope this is the right number, but about 70% of the tourists that come to Mississippi come to visit casinos, so we're a big driver of the tourism industry here and we have reinvested and shown that reinvestment will continue to bring people in and that’s what the market needs in order to succeed."
With Margaritaville closing its doors next month, some Biloxi gaming officials hope the Gaming Commission will stop issuing permits for new properties in order to allow the remaining casinos to catch up. Chett Harrison, the General Manager of the Golden Nugget Casino, says, "Personally would I like to see some sort of moratorium for a few years to let the business here to catch up, but I don’t know if that’s possible.”
More than 5,000 jobs have been lost in Tunica over the last four years, and with the closing of Margaritaville, another 370 jobs will soon disappear. Franklin says those indicators should serve as a warning to lawmakers that if changes aren't made quickly, one of the state's largest economic engines could bust.