This year’s Southern Gaming Summit and BingoWorld, which was held last month at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum & Convention Center in Biloxi, Miss., celebrated the illustrious history of casino gaming in the Magnolia State as it examined the myriad of issues that could potentially impact the future wellbeing of the region’s commercial gaming enterprise.

The reason for the trip down casino memory lane was the fact that this year’s Southern Gaming Summit coincided with the 25th anniversary of legalized commercial gaming in Mississippi. In honor of this milestone, the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association, partners in the event along with BNP Media Gaming Group, the owners of Casino Journal, formed a session entitled “Pioneers of Riverboat Gaming: What the Past Tells Us About Today and Tomorrow.” The panelists for this discussion were a veritable who’s who of early dockside gaming supporters and practitioners and included Lyle Berman, president, Berman Consulting Corp.; Jack Binion, founder, Horseshoe Gaming Corp.; Tommy A. Gollott, Mississippi State Senate, District 50 – Harrison; and Timothy M. Hinkley, former president, Isle of Capri Casinos.

The session promised attendees would hear reflections on key moments in the development of Mississippi gaming from some of its pioneers, the lessons learned, and what the past might tell us about the industry’s present and future. It did not disappoint. Gollott reflected on the last minute, behind-the-scene maneuvers that were needed to get dockside gaming approved against some very stiff odds.

“I tried passing gaming for three years, and each year that I tried I would lose by at least 10 to 12 votes,” Gollot said. “But we finally passed it, and instead of bringing in the $35 million we expected, 25 years later the measure has generated $24 billion. It ended up being one of the greatest pieces of legislation in Mississippi history.”

Hinkley talked about scouting locations for Isle of Capri’s first riverboat operation in Mississippi, which was licensed for Natchez. Then one day he decided to drive out to the coast, and took a turn to Biloxi. “The next day, I was on the phone asking why the hell are we opening a casino in Natchez,” Hinkley said. Isle of Capri eventually opened the first dockside casino in Biloxi. 

Current issues of concern were also subjects for Southern Gaming Summit panel sessions. “Commercial Gaming: State of the States” explored the potential for gaming expansion in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Texas and Georgia. “Wall Street Gaming By The Numbers” provided a macro view of gaming, exploring topics such as the latest revenue trend lines, which operators are best positioned to succeed in the current growth-challenged environment, and what the Trump election means for gaming. “Cybersecurity in a World Full of Threats” took a deep dive into how to better protect the enterprise from potentially dangerous disruptions in an increasing Internet-centric environment.  

In addition to the educational tracks, Southern Gaming Summit featured a plethora of social and networking events. Activities included a golf tournament, which took place at The Bridges in Bay St Louis; the Global Gaming Women Luncheon at the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort; and an opening night reception at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino.  Meanwhile, the event’s tradeshow attracted dozens of exhibitors who displayed their wares in from of hundreds of regional and national attendees.

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