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Biloxi doesn't want competition from Florida gambling
BILOXI -- This spring, Florida lawmakers will consider expanding legalized gambling or at least changing how it's regulated.
There's a lot at stake for the state of Florida and potentially for the city of Biloxi where many Floridians travel to gamble.
Reporter Joe Douglass: "Florida is considering possibly expanding legalized gambling. How do you feel about that?"
Mayor A.J. Holloway, Biloxi, MS: "I don't like that too much. We get a lot of business from Florida."
Biloxi Mayor AJ Holloway says gambling has paid off big time for his city.
And he does not like the idea of competition opening up nearby.
"I would think it would really put a dent in Biloxi's revenues."
Holloway says before gambling, the city was basically broke.
But when the first casinos opened in 1992 Biloxi hit the jackpot, with tourists rushing in to bet their hard earned cash.
Ruth Chonko, Tourist: We're here for a couple more weeks, then we go back to our home in Florida."
Linda Hazelwood, Tourist: "Play a little video poker, play a little craps table once in a while.
The casinos now employ around 13,000 people.
And in its first 20 years the industry generated more than $1.7 billion in state and local gaming tax revenue.
Four new schools have been built and Biloxi now has the highest paid teachers in the state.
And Mayor Holloway says crime is down.
Mayor A.J. Holloway, Biloxi, MS: "We've been able to hire more policeman, give 'em good salaries."
Reporter Joe Douglass: They're talking about possibly legalizing gambling in Florida. How do you feel about that?"
Rutho Chonko, Tourist: Oh, do I wish. I love it."
With gambling comes problems with gambling addiction.
And church and community leaders in the area say they've seen a fair share of people who've gotten into trouble.
Father Gregory Barras, Pastor, St. Michael's Church: "They'll gamble away their paychecks. They'll lose their homes. Yes, it's helped employment tremendously and does the good outweigh the bad. It's always intention and that's with many other aspects of life."