The establishment of a prestigious scholarship endowment coupled with an all-time high in fundraising highlighted the Seventh Annual “Passions of the Palette” event held April 11 at the Lake Terrace Convention Center in Hattiesburg.
More than 150 casino regulators, industry professionals, gaming attorneys and long-time local supporters attended the event, which is sponsored by the Department of Casino, Hospitality & Tourism Management (CHTM) at The University of Southern Mississippi. Approximately 20 CHTM seniors help organize and coordinate the logistics of the annual gala.
The event featured a silent auction, wine-tasting and dinner prepared by a celebrity chef. Approximately $15,000 was raised, establishing a record for the program’s seven-year history.
“The Passions of the Palette is a great showcase for our students’ talents and competencies to their potential employers,” said CHTM Department Chair Dr. Catherine Price. “We are appreciative of the tremendous turnout and support from the local community and our casino industry partners who have throughout the years given back to their communities by investing in our students’ education.”
The festive evening also included a tribute to Larry K. Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, who was named the Margaret M. McCarthy Industry Partner of the Year. In conjunction with that honor, John Payne, president, central division of Caesar’s Entertainment announced that a $26,400 endowment scholarship in Gregory’s name had been established by corporate donors from the Mississippi casino industry to honor his role in helping build the Southern Miss casino/resort management program and his legacy in gaming education in higher learning.
Dignitaries on hand for the event included Southern Miss President Martha Saunders; Mississippi Rep. Bobby Moak, chair of the House Gaming Committee; Jerry St. Pe, chairman of the Mississippi Gaming Commission and corporate representatives from gaming giants, Caesars Entertainment and MGM Resorts International.
“It is clear that USM is leading higher education in the area of gaming education,” said Moak. “That is to be expected however, since they fought the hard battle alone, and against many in the education arena during the early days, after gaming was legalized in this state. It is one of the few university programs where Mississippi students can easily find employment after graduation right here at home.”
Those in attendance were treated to a sumptuous meal prepared by celebrity chef Jerry Edwards, who owns and serves as corporate chef of Chef’s Expressions, a specialty catering company in Baltimore, Md.
Noteworthy donors who contributed the Larry K. Gregory Endowment Scholarship included Ameristar Vicksburg Casino; Beau Rivage Resort & Casino; Boomtown Casino; Caesars Entertainment; Gold Strike Casino Resort; Harlow’s Casino Resort; IP Casino Resort & Spa; Island View Casino Resort; Riverwalk Casino & Hotel; Mr. and Mrs. Jerry St. Pe and Tom O’Donell.
For more information about the Department of Casino, Hospitality and Tourism Management, call 601.266.6762 or visit https://www.usm.edu/gulfcoast/gulfcoast/business/casino-hospitality-tourism-management-news-releases.