The Mississippi Gaming Commission’s recent approval of the stripped-down Margaritaville casino project should not be viewed as carte blanche for more smaller scale gaming enterprises along the Gulf Coast, according to speakers at the Southern Gaming Summit conference and trade show, which took place last week at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi, Miss.

When first announced by Caesars Entertainment in 2007, the $700 million Jimmy Buffett-inspired Margaritaville Casino & Resort was to include a 100,000-square-foot casino, 800-room hotel, 250,000 square feet of retail space, meeting rooms, full service spa and a massive pool complex on 46 acres along Biloxi’s casino row.  The Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant plan eventually approved by the MGC in April calls for $48 million facility with a 68,000-square-foot casino, restaurants, pubs, retail space, an events center and an 18-slip marina to be developed by the Brosig Group on Biloxi’s Back Bay. The property is scheduled to open in the spring of 2012.  

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, lauded the Margaritaville group for taking the steps necessary to secure financing and develop a smaller version of the original project despite the current economic environment. That said, Gregory added that the goal of the MGC is to promote larger-scale projects that will bring more amenities and hotel development to the region.  

“It’s a fine line,” Gregory told the audience at Southern Gaming Summit. “Do we want to turn the Gulf Coast into a tier one destination or become a mom and pop casino market that does not bring in tourism? We need people willing to develop and invest… not those looking to put 25 slots at a restaurant.”  

Gregory’s sentiments were echoed by other speakers at Southern Gaming Summit. Jeff Cooper, treasurer for Biloxi-based IP Casino Resort & Spa, told attendees that the only way Gulf Coast casinos were going to meet and exceed pre-recession visitation and revenue numbers was through the development of projects that increase room inventory and non-gaming amenities, expanded air service into the region, and a continuance of favorable gaming tax rates.  

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway also spoke on the need for new gaming developments to create attractions beyond the casino. “Recovery has been steady and we know we’ll be OK…but is that all we really want to be?” he asked SGS attendees. “We are still less than we were before the storm and will not move forward until we repair the tourism infrastructure, the family attractions and non-gaming amenities lost to Katrina. Some say hotel room development is the key… but we have 17 percent less room than before Katrina and our occupancy rate is still only 62 percent. We need heads to put in the beds.”  

Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel reiterated Holloway’s call for more tourism development. “To fully mature the Gulf Coast gaming industry, we need more private/public partnerships involving amenity and family attraction development… we need more entertainment outside of the casinos,” he said.  

The Southern Gaming Summit is an annual trade show and conference that takes place each May in Biloxi and is presented by the Mississippi Casino Operators Association and BNP Media, the parent company of Casino Journal. This year’s event had over 100 exhibitors and attracted 3,000 attendees. For more information on the event, visit www.sgsummit.com.