Coast Casinos Bouncing Back - - Jackson, MS

Biloxi 08/29/06

Coast Casinos Bouncing Back

By Andrew Hasbun

The gaming industry is one sign the coastal economy is bouncing back.  While overall numbers are still down, just one year later, Coast casinos are proving to be a lifesaver for thousands.

The pictures sent shockwaves across the industry. Multi-million dollar properties were destroyed and an economy was crippled.  But one year later, the coast casinos are bouncing back.

"The things that made the Mississippi Gulf Coast such an attractive place never left when the winds and the water receded," said Jerry St. Pe of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

By the end of August, 8 of the 12 casinos that existed before Katrina will open. Only now, most are rebuilding on land.

"The decision to bring this industry back on land will result in billons of dollars of investment that would not have been possible if the law had not been changed," said St. Pe.

Backed by an enormous corporation, the Beau Rivage spent nearly $500 million renovating but made only a couple major changes.

"It was very important for us to maintain the familiarity of the property," said Bruce Nourse, VP of Public Affairs. "We wanted to make sure that when people came into the Beau Rivage they felt comfortable."

The Beau employs 3,800 workers.  With it open, the coast's casino workforce is estimated at 13,000.  Before Katrina, the state gaming commission said it was around 45,000.

Pre-Katrina, casino square footage was about 684,300.  By the end of August it will be 346,000 sq. ft.

Unlike the Beau, the Treasure Bay Casino is privately owned.  Its trademark pirate ship casino became a vivid symbol of Katrina's destruction.

Now, the Treasure Bay is rebuilding on land. A new pirate ship is not part of the plan. Katrina gave managers the chance to reinvent the Treasure Bay. 

"This gave us an opportunity to become more modern and have a different design and feel than we did in the past," said Susan Varnes, CEO of Treasure Bay.

Less then one hundred slots are operating.  By September that number will double.  About 200 employees are back at work, and managers said that number will grow.  Most were working here before the storm.

"We've got a list of people waiting to come back to work for us in any capacity," said Varnes. "I've got dealers who are waiting tables because they didn't want to work somewhere else."

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