Late on the afternoon before the Golden Nugget’s big debut in Biloxi, general manager Jim Hoskins sounded calm and cool.
“We have a great team,” Hoskins said by way of explaining his no-sweat attitude before the official unveiling of the new brand.
“If you think about it,” said Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway, “we made history at this site 20 years ago, when the Isle opened the first casino in Mississippi, and here we are doing it again, with the Golden Nugget, a gaming icon. We’ve taken the oldest casino in Mississippi and we’ve made it the newest.”
The complete overhaul is a work in progress, Hoskins said, with three more phases being unfolded into early next year.
“The first phase of the remodel is included in the $100 million project but the word ‘remodel’ doesn’t serve it well. It really is a rebirth,” he said. “When you walk inside, it’s a whole new place. “
For Hoskins, a Pascagoula native and casino veteran, taking charge of the new casino is a homecoming. He was general manager of Grand Casino Gulfport and Harrah’s New Orleans and worked at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino as well as Caesars Palace Las Vegas.
“I feel really blessed,” Hoskins said. “It came with a really great team, a great location and it’s home. It’s been a great ride so far and I fully expect it to keep being that. Things keep coming back better and better on the Coast and this is just part of it.”
The Isle property at the base of the bridge joining Biloxi and Ocean Springs was in need of a boost. “Tilman Fertitta, our owner, came in and decided it was a great place to do business,” Hoskins said. “We’re happy to be here on Point Cadet and leading a revival at this end of the beach.”
Fertitta is owner and CEO of Landry’s Inc., parent company of the Golden Nugget which bought the Isle last November. Last year, Forbes described Fertitta as “the richest restaurateur in the world and its most active dealmaker.” His company, Forbes said, had more than $2.5 billion in sales at 421 outlets and 56 brands, including Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. and Chart House.
Those deep pockets are transforming Golden Nugget Biloxi into a brand new property.
“He’s very much behind us and is providing the leadership, resources and the framework to be able to make it a success,” Hoskins said.
The new property has hired additional employees already. “We’ve added 200 jobs to the market,” Hoskins said. “That’s a good thing for the locals. We have 850 employees right now and in the end it will probably be 1,200 to 1,400 of us for sure. That’s double the employee base that we inherited here.”
The Golden Nugget’s entry into the Coast’s casino market is significant for a couple of reasons, according to Hoskins.
“It brings an established brand,” he said. “The Golden Nugget brand is very iconic in the business and it provides another piece of the puzzle to show how strong the Coast market is and the Mississippi market for that matter.”
Fertitta’s investment also could help kickstart more development.
“I think it’s a big deal,” Hoskins said. “Times have been tough. You had the storm and an economic recession. Other competitors are adding capital and we hope this is just the beginning of a big renewed in interest in the Coast and Mississippi to move the businesses forward.”
Golden Nugget Biloxi gamblers and guests can expect “fabulous guest service,” said Hoskins. “That’s what the Golden Nugget name is built on.”
Phase 1 includes the opening of Morton’s The Steakhouse, Lillie’s, Rush Lounge and a party pit, plus all new slot machines and some new table games.
“There’s four phases that last through March of next year which will culminate with another expansion in the gaming area, a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and a state-of-the-art pool complex in front of the facility so you’ll see it as you come across the bridge,” Hoskins said.
Convention space will be reclaimed and put back into use, and there will be a new sports bar upstairs, a new retail area and a modernized buffet. By the end of the year all 758 hotel rooms and suites will be redone and updated.
“We’re just on the very tip of the iceberg with the renaming on the sign,” Hoskins said.
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