Casino Gambling

State casino bigwig wins national award

Allen Godfrey, executive director of Mississippi Gaming Association
Allen Godfrey, executive director of Mississippi Gaming Association

Those who work with Allen Godfrey, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, say his integrity and professionalism earned him the distinction of being named 2016 Regulator of the Year for North America by International Masters of Gaming Law (IMGL).

Godfrey will be honored during the Global Gaming Expo, or G2E, at a private ceremony at Wynn Country Club in Las Vegas on Tuesday.

“What a true honor, not just for Allen but for the entire staff of the Mississippi Gaming Commission and Mississippi as well,” said Jerry St. Pé, former chairman of the Gaming Commission. In 25 years, the Commission has had just 3 executive directors — Paul Harvey, Larry Gregory and Godfrey, who has served in the position since 2011.

“It’s a great reflection on Mississippi,” St. Pé said.

Sue McNabb, IMGL executive director, said the organization recognizes outstanding regulators each year. A regulator is not necessarily chosen from each category in each year, she said. They are selected only if they receive the required nomination and meet the demands of the review procedure. The nominee must also provide a stable regulatory environment in the jurisdiction, be identified as a person of high integrity and demonstrate service to the community, she said.

“It’s a distinguished award,” said Gregory, who also was named Regulator of the Year while he was the executive director of the Gaming Commission.

Godfrey has a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Business Administration from Mississippi State University and is a Certified Public Accountant. He was with the state tax commission, which regulated casinos in the early days, before the Gaming Commission was established. Gregory hired him and they worked together for more than 20 years.

“He was there at my side during the good days,” Gregory said, when casino developers were knocking on the door to build in Mississippi. Godfrey was in charge of licensing, suitability and regulation.

Godfrey also was there in the bad times, when Hurricane Katrina closed all the casinos in South Mississippi in 2005.

“I depended a lot on his wisdom and judgment during those turbulent times,” Gregory said.

That was followed by the BP oil spill in 2010 and the 2011 floods on the Mississippi River that impacted the casinos.

“On every issue he handled it with the utmost integrity and dedication,” Gregory said.

“During and after each of these events, I watched as each gaming operator paid their employees for months after the event happened, and it really showed me what good companies they were, run by compassionate people, and it impressed me tremendously,” Godfrey said during an interview with McNabb.

Godfrey succeeded Gregory as executive director, and he helped establish and enforce new regulations that require investment of at least 300 hotel rooms and other amenities to expand tourism. He served on the State Taskforce on Internet Gaming and Sports Betting in 2014 and more recently on a task force to evaluate laws passed to allow Daily Fantasy Sports in Mississippi.

“I hope I have achieved a respect among industry professionals and they know me as a man of my word,” Godfrey said. “I feel I have contributed a common sense approach and as much as our statutes allow it, an environment that allows our operators to be operators and not worry about our agency micro managing them.”

He added, “I have met some of the most interesting people in the world,” including singer Jimmy Buffett and investor Carl Ichan, “and have developed friendships with industry professionals, and the challenge for me is always keep it on a professional level and remind staff that we have our job and they have theirs.”