Here is the text of Mayor A.J. Holloway's remarks to the Mississippi Gaming Commission during its meeting April 17, 2002 at Grand Casino in Biloxi:
Gentlemen, thank you for inviting me here today to speak about the impact of gaming on Biloxi since it was legalized 10 years ago.
We're working on a detailed report that we will have ready for distribution within the next month, but let me touch on a few highlights this morning.
The tremendous turnaround that we have seen in Biloxi is one of the great success stories in the country. In fact, we ARE the nation's Cinderella story.
Some people talk about the tremendous impact that this industry has had on our tourism industry. To go from about a million visitors a year before casinos to anywhere from 11 million to 25 million visitors a year, depending on whose numbers you go by. To go from 4,000 hotel rooms to 17,000 today in Biloxi. To add daily jet service and see the airport go from 185,000 passengers a year before casinos to almost a million passengers in recent years. And to see the Coliseum and Convention Center double the size of its meeting space.
Those are all great numbers and show the tremendous success we're enjoying, but I'd like to address what I think is really important and that's how we've improved the quality of life for the people of Biloxi and provided new opportunities for ALL of our residents.
And let me say this - you don't have to be one of the 14,000 gaming employees in Biloxi to be a beneficiary of what this industry has meant to our quality of life. Let me give you a few examples:
- We've invested $80 million in neighborhood streets and drainage. This is infrastructure work that we had neglected for years for lack of money. Our residents have better streets to drive on today than at any other time in the history of our city. And we have about $60 million worth of major transportation projects underway right now to help move traffic from one end of our city to the other.
- We've gone from spending $5 million a year on public safety to a budget of $25 million today because we have been proactive. We went from not being able to buying tires for our police cars to replacing our entire fleet. We have the best-paid, best-trained and best-equipped police and fire departments in the state. We're keeping our streets and neighborhoods safe and making sure that crime does not become an issue in our city.
- All of our city employees - like employees at a lot of businesses in Biloxi - are getting paid more and enjoying better healthcare benefits than ever because of our vibrant economy.
- In east Biloxi, where Mississippi's gaming industry was born, we are embarking on a multi-million-dollar program to create and upgrade affordable housing. The city is investing about $15 million along with a $35 million Hope 6 grant from the federal government to dramatically improve the quality of life for our residents for years to come.
- We've spent millions on new city facilities to provide better services to our residents - a new 10-million-dollar public safety center, a new 4.2-million-dollar recreation center, a new million-dollar communications center, a new half-million-dollar fire station, and we've spent millions refurbishing several historic city properties in the past 10 years.
- And one of the things I've most proudest of is the tremendous investment in the youth of Biloxi. We've improved all of our ballfields, built new soccer fields and tennis courts, and enhanced our city parks. 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.
Those are some of the things that we've seen in our city in the past 10 years. It's a great story. And we're very proud of how far we've come.
But there's still one question that I get from our residents, Where's all of the casino money going? I like to tell them, just look around.
I also like to remind them that while we've made all of these major improvements and enhanced their city services and their quality of life, we've reduced property taxes in Biloxi. We reduced them 10 percent a few years ago, and when countywide property reappraisal came up, we cut the city property tax rate in half.
We did all of this while seeing our credit rating go from junk bonds to a Class A rating.
So when people say where's the casino money going, I say, Just look around.
In conclusion, let me say this: If it sounds like we've come a long way in Biloxi, we have. And, we've done most of it ourselves.
I want to thank you for the work that you have done in overseeing the gaming industry.
I also want to ask you for your continued support. 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.
Like I said, I'm proud of the work that we have done in Biloxi, and the work we continue to do, but we need your assistance and your support to keep things on the right track.