Former Mississippi casino regulator Paul Harvey dies at 75 (updated)

August 22, 2012

JACKSON, Mississippi — Retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Paul A. Harvey of Madison, who oversaw Mississippi’s casino industry during the early 1990s as the first executive director of the state Gaming Commission, died Tuesday at Mississippi Baptist Medical Center in Jackson. He was 75.

Harvey died after a brief illness, said his son, Air Force Col. James Paul Harvey. The family did not release the cause of death. A memorial service will be held in the Jackson area and Harvey will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery, his son said.

Harvey served 32 years in the Air Force, retiring in 1991 at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi. He became executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission in 1993 and oversaw the swift expansion of the industry. He left the commission in 1998.

“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.”

“If I had a single word to describe him it would be honorable,” his son said Tuesday. “Character mattered to him as much as anything. He was a servant his whole life. Even as a general, he was always working for ways to make things better for other people.”

Harvey flew 160 combat missions in Vietnam and Southeast Asia. He held command positions at the Pentagon and in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. While serving as commander of the 76th Military Airlift Division at Andrews Air Force Base during the Reagan administration, he oversaw the operations of Air Force One and aircraft used by members of Congress.

He was commander of Keesler from June 1988 until he retired in September 1991.

Harvey ran as a Republican for south Mississippi’s 5th District U.S. House seat in 1992, losing in the general election to Democratic incumbent Gene Taylor.

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.

Warren Strain, who is now the spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, was hired by the Gaming Commission in 1994 as the first director of public affairs. He worked there until 2000.

Strain said Harvey was a fair man, who expected things to be done right but gave his employees the latitude to do their jobs without micromanaging them.

Strain said Harvey took gambling, which had been illegal in Mississippi, and helped build it from nothing into a multibillion-dollar industry.

“I use the analogy that it was like building a rocket ship as it was taking off,” Strain said.

“That was back in the day when it was something brand new and unchartered waters. 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.

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

In 2007, Harvey was hired by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to oversee its casinos in Philadelphia and later in Jones County. He left the job in mid-2011.

A native of Salt Lake City, Harvey was a graduate of Miami University (Ohio) and had a master’s degree from Central Michigan University. He also was a graduate of the Industrial College of the Armed Forces at the National Defense University in Washington D.C.

Former Mississippi casino regulator Paul Harvey dies at 75 (updated)

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