This year will mark the 25th anniversary of the day a long line of people stood in sweltering heat on Aug. 1, 1992, to be among the first to board the Isle of Capri riverboat and be part of history.
A pair of Isle of Capri riverboats had traveled down the Mississippi River from Iowa into their new home port of Biloxi, complete with an escort of fishing and recreational boats.
The owners of those small boats wanted to be part of the promise of jobs and the expected boom casinos would bring to the Coast. Mississippi was one of the first states outside of Nevada to legalize casinos.
“I was there when the first boat opened,” said Allen Godfrey, who now has the top job — executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Association. “It’s just been an amazing run.”
Coast casinos came back from near destruction from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and the challenges of the national recession and the Gulf oil spill that followed. This 25th anniversary year will be a time to celebrate the accomplishments.
“August 1 of 2017 ought to be a tremendous day,” Godfrey said.
Although no plans have yet been announced to mark the day, the anniversary is expected to be a highlight of the annual Southern Gaming Summit on May 2-4 in Biloxi.
The 12 Coast casinos will finish 2016 with more than $1 billion in gross casino revenue and the best year since the Great Recession began in 2008. By the Aug. 1 anniversary, Mississippi’s casinos are expected to have paid a total of $6.5 billion in casino tax revenue since they began operation.
Despite increased competition from other states that have legalized casinos, more projects are proposed and in progress in South Mississippi. Roy Anderson Corp. is completing construction of a new parking garage at the newest casino, Scarlet Pearl in D’Iberville. Plans are in the works for a second casino south of U.S. 90 at Island View Casino in Gulfport. Silver Slipper Casino in Hancock County is expected to get a swimming pool to go with the hotel that opened in 2015.
Foxwoods Resort Casino at Biloxi Pointe will pair businessman Chris Ferrara, one of Biloxi’s largest property owners, with the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation. The tribe owns Foxwoods Casino in Connecticut, one of the largest casinos in the country.
Ferrara said architectural plans are being finalized for the $265 million resort in East Biloxi.
“It will be surprising,” he said. It will have the look and feel of Biloxi and be “a place where people will feel at home.”
The city recently adopted guidelines encouraging waterfront development that has the look of old Biloxi. The city also has committed to complete the last span of the road that will loop around the peninsula. It will provide better access and link Foxwoods and the other seven casinos in East Biloxi.
“I think there’s some some measure of confidence coming back into the economy,” Godfrey said.
The continued reinvestment by the casino operators keeps visitors coming to South Mississippi’s casinos, he said.
“I think a lot of things are heading in the right direction,” he said.
South Mississippi is picking up more non-casino amenities as well to boost tourism.
Margaritaville closed as a casino but returned to Biloxi in 2016 — this time as a family resort and with plans for an amusement park and two more hotels. Other family attractions have brought zip lines, trampoline parks and action attractions to the Coast.
In addition to these brick-and-mortar amenities, the area’s Southern hospitality, cuisine and coastal experience are a draw for visitors, said Michael Bruffey, deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association.
“It’s authentic,” he said. “You can’t find that anywhere else.”