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Biloxi Marks 10th Year of Rebirth

22 May 2002

BILOXI, Mississippi – As reported by the Kansas City Star: "…Once given up for economically dead, Biloxi this summer celebrates the 10th anniversary of a casino-driven rebirth that has been dubbed "The Mississippi Coast Miracle."

"For generations, the sleepy beach town supported itself largely on summer tourism and the shrimp industry. The shrimpers, many of them Vietnamese immigrants, are still hard at work, but other businesses profit from reeling in gamblers.

"…`We were bankrupt,' recalled A.J. Holloway, a former city councilman now serving his third term as mayor. `The city was seven, eight months behind on bills. City workers were taking pay cuts. Businesses were going bankrupt, owing the city thousands of dollars in water and sewer bills.'

"Across the state, it was the same sad story. In 1990, the Mississippi Legislature followed the lead of Iowa and a handful of other Midwestern states that had legalized riverboat casino gambling as an economic jump-start.

"It worked. It could be argued that the riverboat gambling strategy never worked better than in Mississippi, which had nowhere to go but up.

"…Mississippi developed as a low-tax, free-market state. In the beginning, just about anyone with a few slot machines and a boat that would float could qualify for a state gaming license.

"Market forces were allowed to decide winners and losers, and there were plenty of both. The losers sailed away, leaving nothing behind in some cases but a rickety dock and a parking lot.

"Those hard lessons prompted state gaming regulators to impose financial standards on the industry, including mandatory reinvestment rules that brought the first casino hotels and restaurants. Those begat parking garages, shopping malls and golf courses.

"…Mississippi's 8 percent gaming tax has triggered economic boom times in the nine counties authorized to have gambling. Those communities take an additional 4 percent off the top of riverboat revenues, plus lease income and local taxes on gaming devices.

"…Comparisons from the early '90s to the present lend credence to the boast of boom times. According to the Harrison County Development Commission, which includes Biloxi:

"-Tourism jumped from 1.5 million to 19 million visitors, with travelers passing through tiny Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport increasing almost fivefold, to nearly 1 million a year.

"-Unemployment plummeted from nearly 8 percent to under 4 percent until the recession downturn last year.

"…Biloxi's newest casino also is its most elegant. The $660 million Beau Rivage Resort & Casino opened in early 1999 and has raised the bar on quality.

"Owned by gaming industry giant MGM Mirage, the 1,700-room hotel tower, pricey shops, massive video marquee and manicured gardens out front are cloned from the company's Las Vegas Strip mega-resorts.

"Once feared to cannibalize its competitors, upscale Beau Rivage instead helped increase the Gulf Coast market 35 percent in its first year of operation.

"…The university study found that the average Gulf Coast gambler makes 13 trips to the city each year, while almost 30 percent gamble there 25 times or more…"

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