By Dana Cooley
BAMSouth.com Contributing Writer
Twenty years of casinos have had a huge impact on Mississippi. Casinos were legalized in 1990 to mobilize a stagnant economy. The casinos have unquestionably grown the Mississippi economy. However, the state has a unique relationship with these same casinos. “The Hospitality State” has casinos that are as welcoming as a cold glass of sweet tea on a hot summer day. Mississippians excel at feeding and entertaining our guests. Casinos are an excellent way for Mississippi to capitalize on one of its core competencies. The state’s focus on hospitality has led to Biloxi, MS ranking fourth in the US for casino destinations.
Mississippi is indeed hospitable, but it is also deeply religious. The advent of casinos caused anger among the moral majority of Mississippi. It was purported that the casinos would lead to debauchery, corruption, and the destruction of the values that Mississippians hold dear. Mississippians were ultimately convinced to allow the casinos in because of educational funding promises. The deeply religious folk of the state were caught between hope and fear of the impact of casinos on their children. Without much hope in any other direction, the casinos were approved … as long as they stayed on the Coast.
Yes, casinos have greatly benefited the MS economy, yet Mississippi’s sister state, Alabama, has taken another route to economic development that has kept it a step ahead of Mississippi despite the benefit of its casinos. According to Left In Alabama, the benefits of casinos are concentrated locally and do not grow the economy by providing opportunities for supporting industries. The casinos are mostly self-contained economies that provide tax money and charitable contributions to the entire state, but only create jobs in the cities where they are located. Since casinos are only allowed on the Gulf Coast and river banks, much of the gains of the casinos are greatly limited.
As a state, Mississippi needs to come to grips with its hopes and fears. If gambling is to be allowed and accepted as a service the state is positioned to provide well, then it should be allowed statewide with reasonable regulation. Also, if gambling is to be Mississippi’s dirty deal that is tolerated for the good of economic development, but morally disparaged, then Mississippi needs to open other channels to economic development and kick the gambling devils out.
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