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Peavey guitar will greet visitors to Hard Rock Biloxi

Biloxi — On the international scene, one of Mississippi’s best known manufacturers is Peavey Electronics, which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year producing guitars, amplifiers and other musical equipment used by some of the world’s most famous musicians.

Another famous name internationally on the music lover’s scene is Hard Rock, which has dozens of cafés in far flung places from Bali to Yokohama, in addition to a number of hotels and several casinos scattered across the world.
Hard Rock and Peavey Electronics will be joined together when the Hard Rock Casino and Hotel opens in Biloxi in 2005. Visitors to the new attraction next door to the Beau Rivage will be greeted by the tallest Hard Rock sign in the world — a 112-foot neon sign in the shape of a Peavey guitar.

“Peavey is synonymous with both music and Mississippi, and it’s an honor to be involved with Hard Rock in Mississippi,” said Hartley Peavey, owner of Peavey Electronics. “We’re proud to celebrate our 40th anniversary with Hard Rock-another world-class, highly respected name in rock ‘n’ roll.”

Peavey has been friends for years with one of the principal investors in the project, Greg Guiffria, a former rock musician with the group Guiffria.

“Greg called up one day and said he was coming back to Mississippi, and doing a casino on the Coast,” Peavey said. “He wanted to talk about sound equipment. We were already working with Hard Rock through another avenue, the Hard Rock Academy, an educational venue of Hard Rock. We’d been trying to get into the Hard Rock for a long, long time.”

Most people know that Peavey Electronics makes guitars and amplifiers. What they don’t know is the largest part of the Meridian-based manufacturers business is PA (public address) systems, which are now known as sound reinforcement.

“We’re putting our systems in every kind of venue you can imagine,” Peavey said. “Our system is going into the U.S. Senate chamber right now. We’ll be putting in a sophisticated Media Matrix system in Hard Rock in Biloxi. This will be a showcase, and we hope if we do well, we will get all the rest of the Hard Rocks they are putting in all over the world.”

Peavey has recently installed sound systems in the new air terminals at Heathrow, London, and Ontario, Canada, and is currently installing one in the new terminal at the Phoenix airport.

Joe Billhimer, president and COO for Hard Rock Biloxi, said the decision to use a Peavey guitar for the casino’s sign is a tribute to Peavey Electronics’ legacy of craftsmanship, quality and innovation in musical instruments and audio equipment.

“We decided to go with Peavey because they are so well known in the music industry and because they are a Mississippi-based company,” Billhimer said. “Hard Rock is a local’s casino and proud to bring a new dimension in entertainment to the Gulf Coast and Mississippi. We are excited to have our brand associated with theirs. It’s a perfect fit.”

Billhimer said the beachfront sign will replicate the new HP Signature guitar, named for Hartley Peavey.
Guiffria said he is extremely pleased with the project’s development.

“The timing of this project in the marketplace couldn’t be better,” Guiffria said. “It has been a dream of mine for a while and is exciting to see it finally come to fruition.”

Roy Anderson Corp. is the general contractor for the $235-million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino project that will include an 11-story hotel with 317 rooms and suites, a Hard Rock Café, a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and three other restaurants, a spa, a showroom with capacity for seating 1,200, and a casino made from two barges named “Rock” and “Roll.”

The second of the two barges arrived in late November. Combined the barges are 200 feet wide and 400 feet long, and will provide room for 1,500 slot machines, 50 table games, plus restaurants.

“We are very excited and pleased with the progress of construction and seeing it all come together,” said Karl Bulot, vice president of support services and project manager for Hard Rock Biloxi. “The arrival of our two gaming barges makes the project feel much closer to opening.”

Bulot said one of the more unique features of the barges is the gaming area will be constructed so that there will be no visible support columns or obstructions to the eye when looking across the gaming floor. It will be the only construction of its kind of the Mississippi Coast’s 12 casinos.

The total cost for the construction of the barges, which were built by Corn Island Shipyard in Grandview, Ind., over a five-month period, is about $5 million. The barges will have a pile breakwater system built around them to protect from hurricane damage.

The Hard Rock Casino is expected to help grow the gaming market on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“I think you’ll see a tremendous amount of synergy continue to occur in the Coast market with the addition of properties like the Hard Rock in 2005,” said Andy Bourland, executive director, Mississippi Gaming Association. “You have an internationally recognized name that will add another significant contribution to the Mississippi marketplace. An investment like the Hard Rock means continued growth in gaming as well as non-gaming opportunities for customers.”

With Hard Rock being the first new casino to open on the Coast in years, it is expected that loyal customers of other casinos will want to try out the new place. Bourland said that will add to the healthy competition among Coast properties.

“I would argue one of the clear strategies has to be to continue the expansion of the overall marketplace so it has a farther reach throughout the Southeast,” Bourland said. “The Hard Rock name will clearly appeal to customers who are already loyal to that name brand. This is just the kind of new investment that will help stimulate farther the Coast gaming market.”

Beverly Martin, executive director, Gulf Coast Gaming Association, said the name recognition that comes with Hard Rock can’t be purchased.

“All our other casinos are beautiful,” Martin said. “But I don’t think any of those names are as well known as the Hard Rock. We are definitely looking forward to them opening up. I think it will bring a whole new market of people to the area. Right now we have a good market with the older folks. I think this will attract some of the new visitors to the Coast. It speaks volumes for our area that the Hard Rock wanted to come here.”

The Hard Rock, by being located next to the Beau Rivage, will create the third gaming cluster on the beach in Biloxi. Casino Row on the east end of Biloxi contains the Isle of Capri, Grand Casino and Casino Magic, with the New Palace Casino located nearby on Back Bay. Treasure Bay and the President’s Casino in west Biloxi are connected by a boardwalk. Imperial Palace and Boomtown Casino are located near each other on Back Bay. There is also a gaming cluster in Gulfport with the Copa Casino and Grand Casino Gulfport located in the same area.

Martin said it seems to be a proven fact that there is good synergy created by having casinos within walking distance of each other. Many patrons like visiting more than one casino during an outing.

The following are key members of the management team for the Hard Rock Biloxi:

Scott Freeman, vice president of food and beverage, has prior experience with Imperial Palace, Las Vegas, Primadonna Resorts, Casino Magic, Bossier City, La., Harrah’s in Atlantic City, N.J., and most recently, The President Casino, Biloxi.

Shannon Oberlies, who has 12 years of marketing experience from Casino Magic Bay St. Louis, has been named vice president of marketing.

Former Mississippi Gaming Commissioner Robert C. Engram has been named a consultant and will chair the compliance committee for Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. Engram was one of the three original commissioners first appointed to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, and served as commissioner from 1993-2000.

Engram is also given credit for what is often referred to as the “Engram Regulation.” This regulation, which was adopted in February 1999, states that casinos must build non gaming facilities which will amount to at least 100 percent of the appraised value or construction cost of the casino, whichever is higher.

Greg Bosarge, a Biloxi native, will serve as vice president/chief financial officer. Bosarge was formerly general manager of President Casino and most recently, chief financial officer at Casino Magic Biloxi.

John Murphy, formerly with Grand Casino, Gulfport, is vice president of information systems. Murphy has 11 years of experience with the U.S. Navy Submarine Service where he specialized in satellite communications and LAN development.

Karl Bulot, Hard Rock’s vice president of construction, was formerly corporate vice president of facilities for Park Place Entertainment and director of facilities for Grand Casino Gulfport. He also has prior experience at The Fairmont and Hyatt Regency Hotels in New Orleans and Knoxville, Tenn.

Bob Callaway, general counsel, was executive vice president and general counsel for Casino Magic Corp. for eight years, and previously provided counsel to the Nevada Gaming Control Board and Gaming Commission.

Kevin O’Sullivan, from Horseshoe Casino in Tunica, is vice president of casino operations and will be responsible for slots and table games operations, along with player development.

“It was important that we got our team in place soon after the ground breaking,” Billhimer said. “Their involvement from the beginning was critical and they continue to be very much involved in all phases of this project.”

Ocean Springs-based freelance journalist Becky Gillette writers regularly for the Mississippi Business Journal. Contact her via e-mail at bgillette@bellsouth.net.

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