Gaming forecast: The future will take shape in 2007

Following is a 2007 gaming forecast that Mayor A.J. Holloway was asked to write for the January 2007 issue of Casino Enterprise Management magazine, a four-year-old gaming industry journal that has a audience of 17,000 industry insiders.

By A.J. Holloway

Mayor of Biloxi

I used to welcome a convention to Biloxi once or twice a week, but for the past year I’ve been sort of tied up with other things, namely the short-term and long-term recovery from Hurricane Katrina

But the promising signs that we’re seeing in our local economy tell me that we’re going to be back in the swing of things in due time.

In fact, let me tell you up front what I see in the future of Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and you’ll see it starting to take shape in 2007, when I think we’ll be home to the largest building boom ever seen in the South.

– In 2007, you’ll see a new $50 million airport terminal on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, allowing the number of annual passengers to begin its climb to reach more than 2.4 million over the next decade. You’ll see AirTran, Delta and Continental add more and larger jets, and a new airline or two entering the market to join the five carriers we already have.

– We’ll see hotel construction pick up in 2007, making inroads toward an inventory of 30,000 rooms by 2010.

– You’ll see those rooms complimented by the more-than-12,000 condo and condotel units we have proposed for here in Biloxi. Several of the more than two dozen projects now under review will break ground.

– You’ll see the city invest tens of millions in infrastructure – streets and drainage, parks and recreation facilities, and resurrecting many of our cherished landmarks and museums that were ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.

– You’ll see thousands of permits issued for new homes, affordable homes, and small and large businesses.

– And driving it all, you’ll see more and more developers come forward with proposals in 2007 that will see Biloxi home to between 18 and 22 casino resorts in the next five to 10 years.

I can forecast these things because, the fact is, we’re seeing intense interest and intense investment in Biloxi. People realize the promising future we had before the hurricane, and now they can see unprecedented potential, buoyed by new laws that allow onshore gaming.

People see that the casino resorts operating in Biloxi have been generating record levels of gross gaming revenue.

In May 2006, three of the Biloxi casinos generated 78 percent of the revenue that nine were generating pre-Katrina. In June that figure rose to 83 percent, and in July it was 99 percent of the pre-Katrina revenue, with only five of nine casinos operating.

The biggest news: In September seven of the nine pre-Katrina Biloxi casinos generated $95 million gross gaming revenue, the largest amount in the history of legalized gaming in Biloxi. And this is with only three of the seven operating at 100 percent of their pre-Katrina status.

The casino resort industry – and let’s not forget that word “resort” because these are more than casinos — is the engine moving the Biloxi train, but it’s not the whole story.

Pre-Katrina Biloxi had 3,100 condominium units on the drawing boards. Today, those 3,100 rooms have ballooned to more than 12,000 proposed condo units.

On the residential construction front, we expect to see activity pick up as more and more homeowners grants make their way to the homeowner, resolve issues with their insurance companies (wind vs. water), or consider their options. The affordable housing issue, by far, is the biggest challenge we face.

But everyone – homeowners and businesspeople alike – are well-served by remembering the compelling story that has been and continues to be Biloxi.

Biloxi was not broke or broken before the storm. In the decade before Katrina, we were enjoying the most prosperous and productive time in our 300-plus year history.

Consider:

– $6 billion worth of development in Biloxi.

– Nine casino resorts created 15,000 new jobs.

– The number of hotel rooms on the Coast grow from 6,000 to nearly 20,000.

– We went from a million visits a year before gaming to between 8 and 10 million a year in ensuing years.

– We were home to a $45 million affordable housing community.

– Tens of millions invested in public education, public safety and recreation, we invested in our heritage and culture and preserved historic neighborhoods,

– And we cut our tax rate in half while we were providing our residents a much-deserved and enhanced quality of life.

– We were doubling the size of our airport and were getting ready to start on a project to double the size of our convention center.

– A Fodors survey of the nation’s leading travel agents said that the Top 3 emerging destination resorts were Orlando, Las Vegas and Biloxi.

Then Hurricane Katrina came along.

Katrina destroyed 6,000 homes and businesses in Biloxi. Hundreds of historic homes and landmarks. Thousands of lives were interrupted; 52 were extinguished forever in Biloxi.

But despite the widespread destruction and as difficult as it was, I knew what we were doing before the storm, and I knew we could do it again.

Katrina did not destroy our community spirit, and that’s an important asset.

As we move into the future, we’re going to use the past as our guide. We’re going to Revive the Renaissance that we were enjoying before this storm.

Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are once again going to be the places that thousands called home and millions called paradise. And we’re going to do it in a responsible fashion. We’re going to show the rest of the country that we’re going to do it right.

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