Analysis: Harvey got casinos off on right foot

By Jack Elliott Jr./The Associated Press

JACKSON — Paul Harvey repeatedly said his goal as Mississippi’s first gambling regulator was to see the industry got established without a hint of scandal.

From 1993 to 1998 as executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, Harvey did just that, with the help of commission staff. There were no scandals — and there haven’t been any since.

“That was back in the day when it was something brand new and uncharted waters,” said Warren Strain, who worked for Harvey at the Gaming Commission.

“He worked diligently with the Gaming Commission to bring in industry and did so without any problems and without any corruption. The regulatory body that he put together was one of integrity,” Strain said.

Harvey, a retired Air Force major general, died in August. He was 75.

Dockside gambling was legalized in Mississippi in 1992 and the Gaming Commission became an independent entity the next year, relieving what was then the state Tax Commission of the regulatory role.

The commission had 27 employees when Harvey became director in 1993. It has since grown to include 176 employees regulating 29 casinos with revenues topping $2 billion annually — a benchmark Harvey predicted early on.

“Paul used to say that during that time Mississippi was opening a new casino every two weeks,” said Britt Singletary, a longtime family friend and Biloxi attorney who has represented casinos. “It was during the height of activity in the industry and he was the right guy at the right time. If you needed a decision, you would get it right then.”

In 1997, Harvey rejected a casino-driven proposal to allow betting on horse races at the casinos. He cited conflicting language in the Mississippi Gaming Law that didn’t allow pari-mutuel betting although he frequently said he himself would “embrace sports and race books” if they were permitted by law or the courts.

“This would be just one more source of entertainment,” he said.

In 1999, the Mississippi Supreme Court ruled off-track betting was illegal in the state.

Harvey weathered criticism in 1996 from a legislative watchdog committee that said he and other regulators needed to keep some distance between themselves and the industry.

Other legislative critics also complained that the commission was too close to people it regulates. Harvey replied that the commission is tough but not “adversarial.”

Harvey won numerous legal battles in courts over what are legal casino sites in the state. However, the biggest came after he left the Gaming Commission with a state Supreme Court ruling that a site along the Big Black River in Warren County was illegal.

The Gaming Commission in 1998 adopted a regulation Harvey was instrumental in pushing that would more specifically bar casinos from inland sites, such as the Big Black.

Harvey said the Gaming Commission developed a regional, national and international reputation of integrity.

“Some people associated the regulatory agency with the industry,” Harvey said in 2010. “However, our mission was to make sure that the casino operators followed the laws, rules and regulations to protect the citizens. We accomplished that without creating a hostile environment, so the industry grew and the state reaped the maximum benefits from it.”

After leaving the Gaming Commission, Harvey entered private business and consulting.

In 2007, he was hired by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to oversee its casinos in Philadelphia and later in Jones County.

He led an overhaul of the Choctaws’ gambling operation — closing one of its Philadelphia, Miss., casinos — and getting the remaining casino back on a sound financial footing.

He left the job in mid-2011 with a change in the tribal leadership.