A Grand opening

The Island View casino, which is housed in the erstwhile Grand Casino Gulfport, has opened. For now, at least, it’s the only casino in Gulfport. From the Sun Herald:

Gulfport is back in the casino business. The Island View opened Monday evening about an hour and a half earlier than planned, giving people time to mingle, find the slot machine that felt lucky or check out the buffet offerings.

Rochelle Harper of Sister Jazz sang old standards at the north entrance, where dripping ice sculptures of pelicans kept the shrimp cool.

But first there were the speeches and the ribbon cutting.

Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr thanked owners Rick Carter and Terry Green “for putting their money and heart” back into Gulfport to create a premium resort. Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the two men could have taken their insurance money and spent their time golfing in Palm Beach instead of reinvesting.

“What we need in Mississippi are more Ricks and Terrys,” Speed said. “People with a dream and a skill to make that dream come to pass.”

The men, who have been business partners since 1988, took a different route than other casino developers after Hurricane Katrina. Carter and Green, who owned the Copa Casino, stayed focused on building back in Gulfport even though the mayor initially opposed allowing casinos to go north of U.S. 90. When Harrahs Entertainment opted to leave the city and put its resources in Biloxi, they bought two hotels and a 40-acre site from Harrahs for $55 million. They then leveraged the property to secure a quarter billion in financing.

Now, they have the only casino in the Coasts largest city.

The gambling floor that opened Monday night inside the old Gulfport Grand Casino Oasis Hotel with 1,033 slot machines and 14 table games will be much larger by next spring. Then it will have 2,400 slot machines and 50 table games along with new restaurants, a sand-beach swimming pool and a covered parking lot. Longer-term expansions are also in the works.

The Sun Herald | 09/19/2006 | Opening in grand style

For the next few years, openings and expansions will be big news on the Gulf Coast.

Treasure Bay returns?

As longtime readers know, my favorite casino in the world was probably the Treasure Bay in Biloxi. There’s nothing much cooler than a riverboat casino that actually looks like a pirate ship. It also had the coolest carpet ever: a treasure map. When I heard that the casino wasn’t insured, I feared that, after being ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, the Treasure Bay would become just a memory. But according to the LVRJ, the future is bright:

Hurricane Katrina accomplished what three other storms couldn’t — sink the buccaneer-themed Treasure Bay casino.

But Bernie Burkholder, who opened the pirate ship-styled gambling barge in 1994, isn’t ready to walk the plank.

He vowed to open a land-based, albeit smaller, version of the Treasure Bay by June once he secures financing.

“Some of the money will come through insurance proceeds, as well as from savings and from selling what we can salvage,” said Burkholder, watching as construction crews demolished the Treasure Bay’s dockside facilities. “But the largest portion will come from borrowing.”

Fellow Gulf Coast casino operators openly expressed admiration for Burkholder. Privately, many cast doubt on his ability to obtain financing to bring back the Treasure Bay.

During its years of operation, the Treasure Bay was more of a photo opportunity for tourists than a Gulf Coast gaming leader.

Today, the site sits amid a section of the Mississippi coastline ravaged by Katrina’s 135 mph winds and 30-foot storm surge. Motels, restaurants and bars and souvenir shops that were neighbors to the casino lay in ruins. In the Treasure Bay parking lot, casino debris was strewn about. Discarded “Silver Crew” slot club cards were scattered in the sand.

Before Katrina hit, the Treasure Bay had 978 slot machines and 47 table games on a 41,000 square foot-barge built to resemble a Jolly Roger. In addition to restaurants, the Treasure Bay operated a small hotel across Highway 90.

All were damaged beyond repair by the hurricane on Aug. 29. The barge broke from its moorings and came to rest about 100 yards from its dock, dragging two of its four 60-inch concrete and metal-cased pylons.

Because it wasn’t part of a publicly traded company, it is unclear what Treasure Bay contributed to the Gulf Coast’s $1.2 billion in annual gaming revenue.

“We had more of a loss history than other properties,” said Burkholder, president and chief executive officer of the privately held Treasure Bay LLC, which also operates three Caribbean Island casinos.

This casino will reopen, mateys

The Treasure Bay reopening is good news, but I wonder what will happen to the original pirate ship?

In other news, I’m currently in Rolla, Missouri, getting ready to give a lecture on “A Brief History of Gambling.” I had a great discussion this morning with Prof. Larry Gragg’s history class–look for some pictures later in the week.

Here’s a travel advisory: for my third consecutive trip out of Nevada, it has rained. My trip to New Hampshire was heralded by flooding; in Portland it rained, and here in Missouri I saw an incredible downpour this morning. I don’t know what that means, but I’m glad that I brought a jacket.

MS renewal

The Congress for the New Urbanism, led by Andres Duany, is going to be involved in rebuilding Mississippi. From Building Online:

Mississippi Governor Enlists Congress for the New Urbanism in Historic Coastal Planning Effort. Working with Gov. Haley Barbour, a national team of 100 architects, planners, development experts, and other professionals organized by the Chicago-based Congress for the New Urbanism, will gather in Biloxi, Mississippi Oct. 11 for a post-Katrina planning effort unprecedented in its scope and intensity.
Calling this “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to rebuild the Gulf Coast “the right way” in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Gov. Barbour has made the CNU initiative an integral part of his post-hurricane strategy of “recovery, rebuilding and renewal.”

The CNU team, headed by leading Miami architect-planner Andres Duany, will join with local colleagues, elected officials, and other citizens in the region for an intensive, weeklong set of workshops, dubbed the Mississippi Renewal Forum. Over its six and a half days, the forum will produce planning and architectural tools that can guide local and state officials in rebuilding 11 cities in three counties along the entire length of the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

“Governor Barbour has made it clear that he wants the people of Mississippi to come out of this stronger than ever,” says John Norquist, President and CEO of CNU, a membership organization of 2500 professionals committed to adapting traditional city and town planning principles to today’s community building challenges. “These workshops create the opportunity to focus on the future and on rebuilding communities of vibrant neighborhoods.”


You can visit the Mississippi Renewal Forum yourself. I think the move to land-based casinos will be a big part of the “new Mississippi,” at least along the Gulf Coast. I wonder if they will be applying the lessons of Atlantic City?

Gambling at the Last Supper?

Another day, another clash between religion and gambling, it seems. First of all, a Mississippi state representative from Pass Christian has called would-be moralists out over their insistence that Katrina was doing God’s bidding:

Rep. Jim Simpson of Pass Christian couldn’t believe the e-mails he received from some self-proclaimed Christians this week attempting to lobby against casinos rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

“I’ve gotten more than half a dozen from people who said, ‘I prayed for the destruction of Katrina. This is God’s wrath,'” said Simpson. “I got so mad I wanted to scream at them. But I didn’t respond. Not yet.”

Many of Simpson’s constituents died in Katrina. He lost his home and his business and pretty much everything he owns.

“I’m going to get together a list of all the obituaries,” Simpson said, “and send them in my response to them. I’m going to send that list and ask, ‘OK, was this part of your prayers? Did you want this to happen?’

Again, I’m not going to claim any kind of moral high ground or divine inspiration, but it seems to me that anyone who prays for harm to befall someone else is pretty twisted.

That’s not the biggest story that mixes gambling with religion today, though. For that we can thank Paddy Power, an Irish bookmaking company that felt it would be a tremendous laugh to restyle Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous Last Supper–as a gambling party.
Continue reading “Gambling at the Last Supper?”

God strikes back?

I’ve been waiting to hear this: the hurricanes that have recently struck the Gulf Coast are, apparently, God’s way of punishing us. Unfortunately, no one can agree just what we’ve done that’s so bad. There’s the usual suspects–gambling, drinking, etc–but nearly every religious zealot with a beef is stepping up to the plate on this one.
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Goodbye Grand

Last year, I snapped a picture of the Grand Casino Gulfport’s barge:
Grand Casino Gulfport, 2004

The Grand didn’t fare so well in Hurricane Katrina: it was swept from its moorings and deposited across Highway 90.

Today, I was emailed a series of photos of its implosion:

Why the implosion? Read on…
Continue reading “Goodbye Grand”

Rebuilding the Gulf Coast

The major casino companies involved in the Gulf Coast have already announced that they intend to rebuild. But will it be on land or water?
Mississippi gov. Haley Barbour, speaking more broadly of the general reconstruction of the region, said that “if we rebuild the Coast and South Mississippi back just the way it was before, we will have failed.” So does that mean that the legislature will change the state’s gaming laws to allow for casinos on land?
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Gulf Coast update

Projections of the damage caused by Katrina, it seems, keep getting worse. The governor of Mississippi was quoted as saying that all Gulf Coast casinos had been completely destroyed. Even if it’s not that dire, it looks very bad. Any destruction of property, of course, pales beside the loss of human life, just as any talk of rebuilding takes a back seat to the immediate effort to save lives.
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Bad to worse

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, it is clear that the damage is much worse than originally thought. Dozens of people have lost their lives, homes and business have been destroyed, and much of the Mississippi Gulf Coast has been devastated. As far as casinos go, this is an unmitigated disaster.
Continue reading “Bad to worse”