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Beau Rivage deals with post-hurricane recovery issues

Biloxi — Reports that Beau Rivage, which suffered less damage than its competitors, is breaking ranks with the Mississippi Gulf Coast gaming industry by opposing land-based casinos isn’t true.

“That original headline, ‘Beau Says No’ completely mischaracterized our position on the land-based gaming debate,” said Bruce Nourse, spokesperson for Beau Rivage in Biloxi. “The chairman of our company has said, in no uncertain terms, we support land-based gaming and we support temporary casinos. We are concerned the Mississippi Legislature may allow casinos to creep inland — not only a matter of feet but also miles — and we would be very opposed to that.”

Gov. Haley Barbour called a September 27 special session, placing high on the agenda discussions about moving casinos onto land. Earlier this year, state lawmakers approved legislation to allow casinos to be built on permanent pilings.

Alan Feldman, senior vice president of public affairs for MGM Mirage in Las Vegas, said the corporation is concerned “about the potential long-term damage that hasty legislation might do to the character of the Coast.”

“Having seen the damage first-hand, it is clear that being land-based would have been of little, if any, advantage,” said Feldman. “Destruction was widespread along the Coast and for many miles inland.”

MGM Mirage, owner of Beau Rivage, is the world’s second-largest casino operator. The $800-million, 1,740-room casino resort opened in 1999 as a Steve Wynn property featuring Mississippi’s first award-winning microbrewery, a dozen restaurants, 1,550-seat theatre offering nightly entertainment, a 76,000-square-foot casino, a shopping promenade with 13 upscale boutiques, a 20,000-square-foot spa and salon, and a 31-slip marina.

Beau Rivage, which had planned a November opening for Fallen Oak, its newly built $31-million golf course adjacent to DeSoto National Forest, owns 14 acres of land located directly across U.S. 90 from the casino and stretching to Howard Avenue, “but we have no immediate plans to develop it at this time,” said Nourse.

“Even though the Beau looks very good from the outside, it’s deceiving because the whole public area — casino, restaurants, theater and hotel lobby — was flooded,” said Nourse. “Since the storm, we’ve worked to assess the damage and have already started the recovery process by cleaning out the damaged part of the vessel. The first floor — the bus lobby — was completely gutted. The second floor, where you walk into the main entrance of the hotel lobby and casino, was too.”

Despite the extensive damage, Beau Rivage plans to open a temporary casino on-site within three to six months and re-open the full-service resort within 18 months, said Nourse.

“The other facet of our recovery is taking care of the immediate needs of our 3,400 employees,” he said. “The day after the hurricane, we set up a recovery center across the street in our employee parking lot, and we now have tents for three primary areas — payroll distribution, job opportunities, and inventory distribution.”

Beau Rivage is paying its employees for 90 days, plus earned vacation pay. The company is waiving its health insurance co-payments and out of network claims for physicians and prescriptions. At that area, employees may also apply for emergency withdrawals from 401(k) plans.

At its one-stop employment shop tent, MGM Mirage has posted 1,500 job openings available in its Las Vegas casinos.

Several hundred employees have already been placed at 23 MGM Mirage properties, including Gold Strike in Tunica. Already, more than 70 employees have been repositioned to recovery jobs with contractors performing initial restoration activities. About 450 employees will be needed to help with reconstruction efforts.

“Beginning September 12, our employees could also access FEMA and Red Cross applications online via our computers,” said Nourse. “MGM Mirage set up an employee-funded Voice Foundation emergency fund with $1-million seed capital, matching dollar-for-dollar contributions by the company’s other 70,000 employees.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at lwjeter@yahoo.com.


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