Holloway addresses state Gaming Commission on 10-year anniversary

Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway told the Mississippi Gaming Commission Wednesday that Biloxi has seen tremendous growth in the decade since casino gambling was legalized, but he is most proud of the commitment the city has made to its youth.

Holloway, along with mayors of Gulfport and Bay St. Louis, was asked by Gaming Commission Chairman Len Blackwell to report on growth during a commission meeting in Biloxi Wednesday.

“The tremendous turnaround that we have seen in Biloxi is one of the great success stories in the country,” Holloway said in his brief statement. “In fact, we are the nation’s Cinderella story.”

In Biloxi, he told commissioners, the industry has made $5.5 billion in gross gaming revenue in its 10 years, generating taxes for the city ($135 million), Harrison County ($49.9 million), and the state ($444 million).

Of all of the city’s accomplishments, Holloway said he is most proud of the tremendous investment the city has made in its youth.

“We’ve improved all of our ball fields, built new soccer fields and tennis courts, and enhanced our city parks,” Holloway said. “We’re building a new $10 million sports complex right now. We’ve abolished all registration fees for our city youth leagues, which saves families anywhere from $25 to $75 per year per child.

“As a result, we’ve seen our participation go from 2,000 kids a year to 5,000 kids a year. More of our children are getting involved in more of our activities – without regard to level of income.

“But recreation is just a small portion of the investment for our youth. The Biloxi School system, which achieved level 5 status two years ago, is in the midst of a 52-million-dollar construction project that will see a state-of-the-art high school and 3 state-of-the-art elementary schools.”

A detailed report on impact to the city’s quality of life is now being prepared, Holloway told commissioners, but the numbers themselves are astounding: from a million visitors a year before casinos to between 11 million and 25 million a year now, depending on whose figures you quote; from 4,000 hotel rooms before casinos to 17,000 rooms today in Biloxi; and from 185,000 airport passengers a year before casinos to almost a million a year now.

“Our residents have better streets to drive on today than at any other time in the history of our city,” Holloway said, pointing out that the city has invested $80 million in streets and drainage repair in the past 10 years and has $60 million in major projects in the works at Bayview, Caillavet and Popp’s Ferry.

Crime has not become an issue because the city has the best-paid, best-trained and best-equipped police and fire departments in the state, with annual funding that has increased from $5.5 million a year 10 years ago to $25 million a year today.

And in east Biloxi, where Mississippi’s gaming industry was born with the opening of the Isle of Capri, the city and the Biloxi Housing Authority are embarking on a multi-million-dollar project that will create new and improve existing affordable housing.

Before he left the stage, Holloway asked the Gaming Commission for help with major road projects.

“If it sounds like we’ve come a long way in Biloxi, we have,” he said. “And, we’ve done most of it ourselves. … In order for the great things to continue in Biloxi, and for our city to continue to send millions of dollars to the state capital, we must have state and federal assistance on our east-west and north-south corridors. … We need your assistance and your support to keep things on the right track.”

To view the complete text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s remarks to the Mississippi Gaming Commission click here.