10 casinos open on the Coast; one opening this summer

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Published: February 26,2007

Gaming is alive and well on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. To date, 10 casinos have re-opened, another one will open this summer and several others are working their way through the permitting process toward the day construction can begin.

The largest census of casinos is in Biloxi, which has the following now open: Beau Rivage, Boomtown Biloxi, Grand Casino Biloxi, Isle of Capri, IP Casino Resort, Palace Casino Resort and Treasure Bay. Only one casino, Island View, is open in Gulfport, and in Hancock County two are open, Hollywood Casino (formerly Casino Magic Bay St. Louis) and the Silver Slipper.

Casino Magic Biloxi is not reopening, and the property was purchased by Harrah’s Entertainment, parent company of the Grand Casino Biloxi. The President Casino in Biloxi reopened as the Silver Slipper Casino in Lakeshore, Hancock County.

The former site of the President Casino, the venerable Broadwater Hotel and Marina, is owned by local investors who say they plan to open another casino there. Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, says his agency is not aware of any plans for that site at this time.

The Copa Casino in Gulfport purchased the former Grand Casino Gulfport site and reopened as Island View Casino Resort. Yet-to-be-named casinos are being developed in D’Iberville and Diamondhead.

“While no new operator licenses have been issued since Katrina, the commission has given site approval to numerous potential sites; most recently two sites in D’Iberville,” Gregory said. “There have not been any requests for site approval in Diamondhead.”

The Hard Rock Casino in Biloxi is set to open this summer, marketing director Shannon Oberlies confirmed. The Biloxi property, owned and operated by Premier Entertainment, was complete and ready to open the week Katrina struck in August 2005. It sustained heavy damage but repairs are progressing well.

“The Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Biloxi will provide work for over 1,300 employees when it opens its doors,” she said. “The property will include approximately 1,500 slot machines and 52 table games; five restaurants, including Hard Rock Café and Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse; 11-story hotel with 318 rooms and suites; a full-service spa and fitness center; a unique Hard Rock-themed beach pool; Hard Rock Live, a 1,200-capacity entertainment venue; and retail shops.”

Gregory says Bacaran Bay Casino Resort, developed by the Torguson Gaming Group, has received site approval and will seek the final step for site approval to begin construction.

According to Jeana Tribble, vice president of marketing, the resort will break ground on its elaborate facilities this summer with opening approximately two years away. Experienced casino operator Jeff Dahl is on board to serve as general manager.

Bacaran Bay will feature 75,000 square feet of gaming with 1,800 slots and 50 table games; seven restaurants; a full-service 20,000-square-foot spa and fitness center; four acres of pool decks; six movie theaters; a 40-lane bowling center; a 5,000-seat entertainment venue; a 15,000-square-foot shopping esplanade; two wedding chapels; kids activity center; and over 80,000 square feet of meeting space.

“It also will feature the first all-suite hotel on the Mississippi Gulf Coast with over 600 rooms as well as The Villas on-site condominiums. Things are going well and 300 condos have already been sold,” she said. “Guests of Bacaran Bay will enjoy priority access to Palmer’s Run, an off-site Arnold Palmer signature 18-hole championship golf course.”

Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel opened small last summer and has continued to add gaming space and renovate its hotel.
Once the renovation project is complete, Treasure Bay will offer 249 hotel rooms, including 16 suites. For gaming, there will be 800 slot machines and 22 table games.

“A few unexpected construction delays have caused us to move the completion date back,” said director of marketing Kathy Santiago. “We anticipate opening up our main casino floor in addition to the hotel tower no later than summer of this year.”

The Palace Casino Resort recently announced plans to expand the existing casino by approximately 20,000 square feet. The two story expansion will include a centrally located poker bar and entertainment stage, 14 additional table games, a total of 1,100 slot machines and a high-limit slot and table salon.

“Preliminary approvals for the project were obtained in April of 2006,” general manager Keith Crosby said. “Our owner, Robert Low, has great confidence in the market and Biloxi, and all our associates are anxious to get started as soon as possible.”

Included in this project at the Palace is the return of the popular Palace Café and Bakery as well as the live action cooking stations in the Palace Buffet and an upscale cocktail lounge area.

The IP Casino Resort was the first Coast casino to reopen after the hurricane. Located on Biloxi’s Back Bay, the property suffered less damage than other casinos and was able to continue using its gaming barge. Now it too is planning to come on land and will add gaming space as it does so.

“We’re not giving up the barge yet,” said general manager Jon Lucas, “but we will convert the second floor of the hotel to gaming space with 300 additional slots. We’re also adding a men’s and ladies’ boutique and an Asian restaurant that will open this summer. We have a lot going on here. We continue to re-invest and make the property better.”

Gregory says the gaming industry fared well in the wake of the storm. “Of the 13 casinos licensed at the time of the storm, 10 have reopened,” he said. “The gross gaming revenue is back to the pre-Katrina number. It was necessary to get these businesses open to get people back to work and back to some normalcy.”

He said currently there are about 13,000 direct casino employees working in the Coast’s 10 casinos, compared to 16,000 who worked in the 12 that were operating before Katrina.

“The Legislature and governor came together to change the law and allow the companies willing to reinvest in this area some protection against future storms,” he said, referring to the legislation allowing casinos to build on land. “At this point, growth in the industry will depend on many things. The amenities and infrastructure that were there before need to return along with adequate housing for future employees.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at llofton656@aol.com.

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