Mississippi Attorney General Determines Casino Classes Against State Law

By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

May 18--GULFPORT, Miss. -- Casino management classes may be omitted from a new tourism degree this fall at the University of Southern Mississippi because of an attorney general's opinion.

The opinion last week from Attorney General Jim Hood interprets state law to "clearly prohibit" the state College Board from training gambling employees. The opinion also said state law prohibits the teaching of gambling classes on publicly owned property. The opinion was sought by Sen. Alan Nunnelee, R-Tupelo, who wanted to clarify whether the board has the authority to sidestep the Legislature in offering classes related to the casino industry.

The board in April approved a bachelor's degree in tourism with the courses to be taught at the University of Southern Mississippi. The casino management courses were to be offered at the Long Beach campus.

In November 2003, a representative from the AG's office assigned to the board told members the degree could be offered. The state College Board said that despite a state statute prohibiting gambling courses from being taught on public property, it believed it had the power to determine what subjects are taught at state schools.

The College Board is expected to discuss the AG's opinion with USM President Shelby Thames when it meets later this week in Jackson. Harold Doty, the dean of the USM School of Business, plans to meet with lawyers in the Attorney General's office on Wednesday then report that afternoon to Thames.

"We were never going to teach card dealing or any direct gambling activities," Doty said. "We have approval from the (College Board) to offer a degree in tourism, a bachelor of science and business administration in tourism. As part of that degree, we had identified three concentration areas: hotel management, restaurant management and casino and resort management. My best guess right now is that the AG opinion affects only the part of the curriculum focused on casino resort management."

On average, the highest-paid jobs at casino resorts are related to gambling.

The College Board voted to offer casino and resort management classes after Tulane University began offering them in Biloxi.

"My position as a dean is I'm disappointed," Doty said. "We worked real hard to put this together. I respect the opinions of some people in the state who don't approve and that's fine. While I'm disappointed, I'm hopeful we will find a compromise somewhere."

-----To see more of The Sun Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sunherald.com

(c) 2004, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.


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