Most of the members of Foundation Gaming Group in Gulfport worked together to transform the Isle of Capri from two riverboats in Biloxi to one of the major casino companies in the country.
About a decade ago they formed Foundation Gaming and began advising others in the casino industry. Now these Gulfport executives operate two of their own Mississippi casinos as Foundation Gaming & Entertainment.
In late August, with Mississippi one of only five states to offer sports betting and a new interstate creating opportunity, they purchased Fitz Casino & Hotel in Tunica.
Known as Fitzgerald’s when it opened in 1994, the resort sits on 50 acres along the Mississippi River. It has a 500-room hotel, indoor pool, a pet play area, a 38,000-square-foot casino, three restaurants and an event center that recently hosted concerts by Dionne Warwick and Keith Sweat. Among its 900 slots are Lucky Irish machines.
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The resort, which Full House Resorts attempted to buy in 2014, has turrets to give the feel of an Irish castle, and a replica of the Blarney Stone.
In October 2015, the company acquired the former DiamondJacks Casino in Vicksburg. It was built by Isle of Capri in 1993, a year after the Isle opened the first casino in the south in Biloxi.
In 2016, Foundation Gaming announced it was rebranding the property to WaterView Casino & Hotel along with painting the exterior, adding new games, creating a show bar on the casino floor, updating the event venue and improving the restaurants.
Sports betting will start there in about a month, said Les McMackin, chief operations and marketing officer for Foundation Gaming.
With just over a month since they purchased the Fitz for an undisclosed sum, McMackin said Foundation Gaming has opened the sports book there and is proceeding cautiously with other changes and upgrades.
Management is still in exploration phase, he said, “Deciding which way we want to take the brand.”
The Fitz has a loyal customer following and many staff members who have been with the property for a long time, he said. Both groups are being asked what changes they would like to see, and customers already were invited to a party to meet Tony Scudiero, the new general manager at the Fitz.
One of the big changes comes at the end of the month, when a 9-mile section of Interstate 269 will be complete, making it easier and faster for drivers coming from Memphis, Birmingham and Altanta to get to the Tunica casino, according to the Delta Business Journal.
While Foundation Gaming operates casinos in Tunica and Vicksburg, its offices are on 19th Street in Gulfport. McMackin said Gulfport is close to the airport and South Mississippi is home for the executives who have experience in every major area of casino operation and entertainment.
Their expertise includes:
▪ Allan Solomon, chairman, was an original member of Isle of Capri Casinos executive team when it was founded in 1992, and served as the executive vice president and general counsel until 2008.
▪ Greg Guida, co-CEO, spent 12 years with Isle of Capri as senior vice president of development and legal affairs, and later was CEO of Bally’s-Tunica and Resorts-Tunica
▪ Jeff Dahl, who recently joined the company as co-CEO, didn’t work at the Isle but led Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi, Gold Strike Casino in Tunica and other regional casinos before becoming an adviser to companies doing business in the casino industry.
▪ McMackin, chief operations and marketing officer, was senior vice president of marketing at Isle of Capri for 12 years and has more than 20 years of expertise in casino operations, marketing and finance.
▪ Robert Boone, chief administrative officer, was vice president of human resources and risk management at Isle of Capri for 15 years
▪ Donn Mitchell, who worked at Isle of Capri for 21 year in corporate finance, just joined Foundation Gaming as chief financial officer.
McMackin said all of the executives had a relationship before joining Foundation Gaming. They all operated in the Mississippi River casino market and they all chose to stay on the Coast.
“We focus on regional gaming, which is kind of our forte,” he said. Yet they aren’t limited to Tunica and Vicksburg.
“We’re always looking for opportunities,” McMackin said.