The status and future of Biloxi gaming industry

Here is the prepared text of Mayor A.J. Holloway’s introductory remarks made during a panel discussion, “Resort Development Update,” on Thursday, May 10, as part of the Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi.

Good morning and welcome home.

I’m delighted to be a part of this panel because I think we have a great story to tell here in Biloxi and on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

I’m proud of how far this community has come in the past 20 months.

I know we have a long ways to go, but I’d like to spend a few moments telling you why I think Biloxi is the most compelling and exciting story anywhere in the country.

I realize that the Gaming Commission and the Tax Commission break down the markets by the Delta and river counties, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, but as Mayor of Biloxi, I pay particularly close attention to the Biloxi market.

Let me tell you what I’m seeing. Seven months ago – which was 13 months after the storm, in September 2006 — we started a trend in the Biloxi gaming market that’s continuing to this day.

Six of the last seven months have been record-setting months in one way or another.

In September 2006 — with only five casino resorts in operation and only three of those facilities at 100 percent — the Biloxi casinos generated $95.7 million in gross gaming revenue, the largest figure in the history of Biloxi gaming.

The next month, October, was the largest October on record. November was the largest November, and December was the largest December.

January’s 85.9 million was not enough to eclipse January 05’s 90 million, but we came back with the largest February ever, and March was not only the largest March but the second largest month in history.

We’re expecting to get the April numbers next week, but let me say this: When you compare the pre-Katrina numbers to the post-Katrina in numbers in Biloxi, you see an extraordinary story.

That fact — plus the reputation as a destination resort that Biloxi had built in the decade and a half prior to the storm — means that we’re going to see continued interest in Biloxi.

Biloxi is the ENGINE, and the FUEL is the 800-foot onshore gaming legislation passed by the legislature and signed into law by the governor.

Let me give you a quick rundown on some of the major casino resort projects in Biloxi:

Next week, Harrah’s is scheduled to move forward with part of its plans for its property in east Biloxi. Since the storm, Harrah’s has acquired the largest footprint of any resort in east Biloxi – about 80 acres in all.

The Hard Rock — which had one customer, Katrina, the first time it tried to open – will open on 7-7-07, and Treasure Bay is racing to have its new-and-improved casino resort open around that time.

Marlin will tell you more about this one, but I’m excited about the potential of Baccaran Bay resort, which will be in the center of our new Caillavet Street revitalization corridor.

IP has acquired more than 25 acres around its site for future growth. The casino re-opened four months after the storm and has continued to add amenities, upgrade all of it its hotel rooms and add new restaurants.

A casino resort project next to Boomtown on Back Bay, called the Bayview Casino Resort, is moving forward with plans for a resort that will include 55,000 square feet in gaming space and a 500-room hotel.

Boomtown has acquired a significant amount of land – about 23 acres – and in the next month will start working on master planning for its future growth.

The Palace has a $10 million, 20,000 square foot addition to increase gaming capacity to be completed this fall, and is working on a preliminary master plan that would include 140,000 square feet of elevated space and contemplates the addition of a 400-room hotel tower.

And the Isle of Capri, the casino that started it all, is in the final stages of a $180 million-dollar expansion that will bring its gaming capacity to more than 100,000 square feet, re-open its convention and entertainment space, as well as add other amenities.

Let’s not forget that these casino resorts also mean off-site amenities, like golf courses. For instance, Beau Rivage’s Fallen Oak course, which opened six months ago, has established itself as one of the top 10 new courses in the country, according to Golf Magazine. There’s also The Reserve, the Palace’s golf course, where I have not played, and the Grand Bear, where I am a lifetime member!

Some months after the storm, I made the forecast that we would see as many as 18 to 22 casinos in Biloxi within 10 years.

Others have said that we might see the number of hotel rooms increase from 20,000 pre-Katrina to 30,000 and the number of industry employees grow from 15,000 to 30,000.

I think all of those numbers are well within reach, and I think we can do it without compromising our quality of life.

In fact, I point to those years before the storm, when we were successfully dealing with quality of life issues. Things like providing nationally-recognized public schools, safe neighborhoods, award-winning work in historic preservation, quality recreation for children and adults, affordable housing initiatives, citywide economic development, and good streets and drainage.

And we were doing it all while cutting the city property tax rate in half.

In other words, what I’m telling you is that Biloxi has seen tough times in the past, and we’ve overcome them.

This storm was the worst the nation had ever seen, and we’re meeting it with an unprecedented response. We’re reviving that renaissance we were enjoying before August 29, 2005.

In closing, I know that all of you in this room – those of you visiting the Southern Gaming Summit and those of you investing in our community – are playing a role in our recovery, and as Mayor of Biloxi, I thank you for your support.