By Gary Trask

Beau Rivage will once again host the Southern Gaming Summit - one of the longest running gaming industry trade shows in the country.

Beau Rivage will once again host the Southern Gaming Summit
- one of the longest running gaming industry trade shows in the country.

Despite a series of unimaginable and unavoidable obstacles, the gaming industry in the state of Mississippi continues to thrive.

The last 15-plus years have been a roller coaster ride for the state, most notably the Coastal Mississippi region, which has been forced to deal with outside factors such as catastrophic natural disasters, a recession, the largest oil spill in U.S. history, and a once-in-a-generation global pandemic.

But as industry movers and shakers prepare to descend on the Gulf Coast next month (3-6 May) at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino for the annual Southern Gaming Summit (SGS), revenue and visitation numbers are nearing or are at all-time highs. Yes, even after suffering setback after setback, seemingly every other year or so, business is booming in the Magnolia State.

Talk about resiliency.

“It’s been quite the ride over the years, but we have more than just survived, we have prospered,” said Allen Godfrey, a career state employee who served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission for over 10 years during the run of those drastic ups and downs. “Since we reopened after COVID, every month is better than the month before. We’re knocking on the door of generating the kind of numbers that have never been seen here before. It’s amazing to be a small part of it all.”

Indeed, the numbers from 2021 were staggering considering the uncertainty the pandemic caused. According to the state Department of Revenue figures, the Mississippi casino industry brought in an all-time high of almost $2.7 billion in 2021, with casinos on the coast – like the Beau, Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort, Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Biloxi, Palace Casino Resort, Harrah's Gulf Coast, and IP Casino Resort and Spa – hauling in over $1.6 billion alone. In 2020, due to COVID, the overall number for the state was just under $1.8 billion, the lowest since 1995.

Even during a pandemic year in 2020, Mississippi was the top travel spending market in the U.S., and, according to Coastal Mississippi, the area it promotes accounts for at least one-third of the state’s tourism employees, expenditures, and taxes, which means the Gulf Coast was one of the highest performing destinations in the nation. It’s probably no accident that several major tourism developments opened their doors on the “Secret Coast” during that time, including Mississippi Aquarium, Hotel Legends, and Pearl Hotel along with on-site restaurants Thorny Oyster and Smoke.

The ribbon cuttings at new businesses haven’t stopped on the Coast in 2022. In just the last few months, the area has welcomed a number of new venues, including Jia, a refreshed dining experience at Beau Rivage, with a new 18-seat circular noodle bar, full menu enhancement, and specialty cocktails.

Within walking distance of the Beau and Hard Rock you’ll now find Ground Zero Blues Club Biloxi, co-owned by Oscar-winning actor Morgan Freeman, and Martini’s Biloxi, a hip lounge and restaurant with an outdoor patio and a regular schedule of live entertainment.

“We continue to thrive in Mississippi and that’s a testament to all of the exciting new businesses that are popping up all over the place and to the casino operators who continue to reinvest in their properties,” Godfrey said.

Allen Godfrey served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission for more than 10 years.

Allen Godfrey served as Executive Director of the
Mississippi Gaming Commission for more than 10 years.

As has always been the case, getting people to the state for the first time is the biggest challenge. But once that challenge is met, casino operators are confident the quality of their venues in addition to the amazing food, optimal weather, rich history and culture, friendly people, and all of the other non-gaming activities such as the impressive INIFINITY Science Center, big name entertainment acts, world-class golf courses, and more, will close the sale for them.

“We always say that once we get you here, we’re going to get you back,” said Brandon Dardeau, the newly appointed MGM Resorts International President and Chief Operating Officer of Southeast Operations, which includes Beau Rivage and Gold Strike Casino Resort in Tunica. “We have so much to offer. It’s affordable and the people here are sometimes our best sales tool because they are friendly and welcoming. The lion's share of our business at the Beau is repeat visitors and most of them are coming from more than 300 miles away. That pretty much sums it up.”

Much of the discussion at the Southern Gaming Summit, which was founded in 1994 and is one of the oldest gaming conferences in the U.S., will be about how to keep this wave of momentum rolling.

Bill Miller, president and CEO of the American Gaming Association, will be the keynote speaker at SGS, which is hosted by the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association and begins with a golf tournament at the spectacular Fallen Oak. on 3 May, followed by a welcome reception on the event deck at the Beau Rivage pool area, overlooking the Gulf Coast.

On 4-5 May, following Miller’s keynote, attendees will participate in a conference program in the convention area on the second floor of the Beau that will feature a wide range of subject matters, including regulatory updates, how to be a “responsible operator” in 2022, doing business as a third party vendor, and more.

Another hot topic of discussion will be sports betting. Mississippi was one of the first states to launch retail sports wagering following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2018 to abolish the federal law prohibiting individual states to offer it to residents and it has played an integral part in the continued success of the Mississippi’s gaming market.

“Sports betting has been a truly valuable entity to the casino industry here in Mississippi,” Godfrey said. “The folks in this area are so passionate about college sports and, of course, the NFL and the Saints. The margins are relatively low, but it has brought a tremendous amount of foot traffic to our gaming venues from people who otherwise probably wouldn’t have made their way onto the property.”

SGS will be capped off by the Mississippi Gaming Hall of Fame gala on 5 May. This year’s inductees are Allan B. Solomon, co-founder and former executive vice president and general counsel at Isle of Capri Casinos; Virginia McDowell, non-executive director of Entain, and retired chief executive officer of Isle of Capri Casinos; Craig H. Neilsen, who founded Ameristar Casinos; Kagemasa Kozuki, founder, chairman and representative director of Konami Holdings Corporation; and John Hairston, a former member and chairman of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

“The Southern Gaming Summit is something I really look forward to every year,” said Godfrey. “It’s a chance for everyone to network and get to spend some quality time with people in the industry that we don’t get to see on a daily or weekly basis. And, above all, it’s an opportunity to show off the gorgeous Gulf Coast to all our friends in the industry. I can’t wait to get started again this year.”

Thriving Coastal Mississippi ready to host annual Southern Gaming Summit is republished from