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Industry making case for land-based operations

Casinos anticipate rebuilding — if concerns addressed

While the destruction to dockside gaming facilities on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was devastating, Mississippi Gaming Commission executive director Larry Gregory said the major casino companies are willing to rebuild — if they can get the casinos out of harm’s way in the water.

“I have been down there and have seen the casinos,” Gregory said. “I went the day after the hurricane went through. At least half of the casinos will have to be rebuilt completely. The other half had some kind of damages ranging from limited to major. We are in discussions with casinos, their parent companies in Las Vegas, trying to get them to come back to Mississippi. Indications I’m getting early on is that they do want to come back. They are committed to rebuilding on the Gulf Coast, but without the risk associated with being on the water. In addition to that, they feel like if they get back on the water, the insurance companies wouldn’t even insure them.”

Gregory said the shareholders of these corporations are waiting anxiously to see how Mississippi will respond.

Gregory has been in contact with key legislative leaders, and the consensus is the state has to respond quickly to give the casino companies an indication of where we stand.

“The casinos aren’t going to wait a year from now to decide what needs to be done,” Gregory said. “They want an indication early on, and if they have some commitment through legislative action or the Governor’s Office that we intend to change that law, I think they are committed to rebuilding. I have heard that from five major companies ranging from Harrah’s to Hard Rock to the Beau Rivage. I think there is a definite consensus among casino CEOs that Mississippi has been good to them. They want to continue in that business relationship in the future, but without the risk they have had on the past being on the water.”

One reason the casinos are interested in rebuilding in that most of their hotels survived. Although they were damaged, they can be repaired in a few months or so.

“The Imperial Palace had only limited damage to their hotel,” Gregory said. “Even with the Grand Casino Biloxi that had its barge up on Highway 90, their hotels are still intact. The Grand Casino Oasis Hotel in Gulfport looks like it is in good shape. I think we are one leg up. One reason they are willing to rebuild is that the hotels are still intact.”

There has been discussion in the past of allowing the casinos to become land based, but the idea hadn’t yet gathered enough momentum to pass. But now that gaming revenues have come to represent such a large chunk of the state’s revenue stream, there is going to be major financial pressure to get the casinos back in business.

Some have suggested the casinos be allowed to move their gaming operations into the ground floors of their hotels. Gregory said that is just one of the numerous suggestions from inside and outside of the state to get this industry kick started again. “Those are going to be some of the issues we will relay to our Legislature leaders,” Gregory said.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at bgillette@bellsouth.net.


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