GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - MS Gaming Commissioner John Hairston told WLOX News Friday that rising flood waters have begun encroaching on Tunica casinos, and the impact could be devastating.
The casino closures started Thursday and are continuing Friday. Pictures sent to WLOX News from Jackpot! Magazine show sand bags being filled behind the Fitz Casino and Hotel, and water pumps and hoses positioned at Bally's Casino.
Hairston said while no damage is expected to the casinos and resorts themselves, projections show water levels will make the access roads and parking lots impassable for possibly as long as 20 days. That would be followed by a cleanup.
Hairston said the shutdowns are devastating for the economy in the Tunica area and could possibly even lead to layoffs.
Mary Cracchiolo-Spain from Beau Rivage told WLOX News that the Beau's parent company, MGM Resorts International, is paying employees at Gold Strike during the closing. She said it's part of a long-standing company practice to pay salary, tips and benefits in a situation like the one in Tunica.
Governor Haley Barbour urged residents on Friday to take the flood forecasts seriously.
"Three weeks from now, we're going to have a tremendous amount of water in places where there's never been water in my lifetime. And I'm 63 years old," Barbour said. "And don't think because the crest of the river is going to be May 18 that you can wait a couple of weeks. Because a lot of roads and access ways that are open today and will still be open this weekend, won't be open the next weekend."
The governor spoke briefly about the expected flooding along the Mississippi River. He was in Smithville Friday afternoon surveying the damaged from this week's deadly tornadoes.