Mississippi -- When Larry Gregory heard last fall
that MGM Mirage planned to reopen the storm-ravaged Beau
Rivage exactly one year after Hurricane Katrina laid waste
to the Gulf Coast's casino industry, the executive director
of the Mississippi Gaming Commission gave a private chuckle.
way, Gregory thought, would the Las Vegas-based casino
giant be able to make repairs to Biloxi's largest gaming
property in such a short time.
morning, Gregory will happily eat some serious crow.
1,740-room Beau Rivage reopens its $550 million renovation
following a brief ceremony honoring the estimated 238
Mississippi residents who died when the Category 4 storm
hit Biloxi and the surrounding areas last Aug. 29.
than 3,800 MGM Mirage employees -- about 60 percent who
worked at the casino last year -- will go back to their
jobs and try to return some normalcy to the Gulf Coast
region following a year of turmoil and rebuilding.
Gregory, Mississippi's chief gaming regulator since December
2001, the Beau Rivage is more than a 32-story hotel-casino
that opened in 1999; it's a symbol of the state's blossoming
future and a signal that what had been the nation's third-largest
producer of gaming revenue is on the road to recovery.
Rivage) was our state's first true destination resort,"
Gregory said. "It's significant, and the reopening
shows how truly the industry is getting back on its feet."
traveled to the Gulf Coast from his offices in Jackson
one day after the storm hit, seeing firsthand the wrath
of Katrina's 135-mph winds and an estimated 30-foot storm
surge. Destroyed or heavily damaged were 12 operating
casinos and a 13th that was set to open within days.
of residences and businesses in the communities of Biloxi,
Gulfport and Bay St. Louis were demolished and the area's
infrastructure was decimated for months.
floating gaming barges that broke from their moorings
and washed across Mississippi's Highway 90 a year ago
took with them the jobs of 17,000 casino workers and annual
gaming revenues of $1.2 billion. Among the piles of rubble
and the lost revenue, an estimated $500,000 a day in state
and local tax revenue disappeared from government budgets.
the annual Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas, taking place
just days after the hurricane, American Gaming Association
President Frank Fahrenkopf called the devastation in Mississippi
the single-biggest catastrophe to ever strike the casino
the South, these were dark days. But Gregory was both
realistic and optimistic.
flew down there and I couldn't believe the damage,"
Gregory recalled. "I didn't think anything would
happen anytime soon, but this past year has been a great
lawmakers, led by Gov. Haley Barbour, passed legislation
in October that allowed casinos to rebuild their facilities
off water, some 800 feet away from the Gulf of Mexico.
the end of December, three Biloxi casinos -- the Las Vegas-owned
Imperial Place, the Palace and the Isle of Capri -- had
reopened. Business was so good at Isle of Capri that operators
expanded the temporary casino to make room for 500 more
slot machines this spring.
June, both Boomtown and Treasure Bay opened small temporary
land-based casinos in Biloxi.
Aug. 18, Harrah's Entertainment reopened the Grand Casino
Biloxi in a temporary land-based facility with 800 slot
machines, 28 table games and a 500-room hotel.
Beau Rivage reopening takes the Gulf Coast up another
Mirage redesigned the property's 85,000-square-foot gaming
barge -- which remained moored to Gulf of Mexico during
the storm -- to include 93 table games and 2,100 slot
machines. New restaurants, bars and entertainment venues
been given a rare chance to do it all over again and we
have embarked on an even greater vision," Beau Rivage
President George Corchis said. "When we reopen, we
intend for Beau Rivage to continue its legacy as a strong
some may view the Beau Rivage's re-emergence as a celebration,
Gregory said all the casino reopenings have been kept
low-key. On Tuesday, the somber mood of remembrance will
be coupled with the joy that more than 3,800 Mississippi
residents are returning to their jobs.
our reopenings have been symbols of hope and optimism,"
Gregory said. "The soul of the Coast is missing,
but the rebuilding effort brings a little bit of it back."
said the reopenings will continue through September. On
Thursday, Penn National Gaming reopens the former Casino
Magic in Bay St. Louis, renovating and rebranding the
property as the Hollywood Casino. He cited at least four
more new casino projects planned for the area.
a new potential casino project for the Gulf Coast seems
to cross my desk," he said.
the casinos have returned, so has gaming revenue. In July,
the five operating Gulf Coast casinos reported $74.4 million
in revenue, down 26.9 percent from $101.7 million reported
by 12 casinos the previous year.
analysts said the Gulf Coast results were impressive considering
the reduced capacity.
said his biggest fear never materialized.
wasn't the locals who brought the casinos back, it was
tourists. Residents weren't spending their own money at
the gaming tables; construction workers weren't feeding
paychecks into slot machines instead of working on rebuilding
can tell you I was concerned about who would be coming
to the casinos," Gregory said. "I didn't want
local people playing their (Federal Emergency Management
Agency) checks. We wanted the tourists, and they've come
back. We're getting visitors from Alabama, west Florida
and even Louisiana."
will be helped greatly once the 27-mile stretch of Highway
90 between Bay St. Louis and Biloxi is repaired. Two bridges
that connected the peninsula with the rest of coastal
communities will be partially opened next year.
Brown, southern district commissioner for the Mississippi
Department of Transportation, said rebuilding the bridges
will cost almost $600 million, which is being funded through
federal tax dollars. Once the bridges are repaired, he
said, the entire Highway 90 through the casino district
will be refurbished.
highway is truly the lifeline of the coast," Brown
said. "And the good people of the United States are
making those repairs possible."