Casinos Reopen After Ivan's Interruption

Mark Pitalo stood in the hallway leading to the Palace Casino's first floor. "Let's get it rolling," he laughed. "What are you waiting for, Christmas?"

Actually, the Palace Casino was waiting for gaming commission auditors to finish their post hurricane checklist. That happened at 11:00 a.m.

Keith Crosby is the casino's general manager. "We got lucky. We dodged a bullet," he said.

Crosby knows Ivan had the potential to sink the south Mississippi casino industry. "I had several employees come in this morning and said I'm just glad to see the place is still here and I still have a job," he said.

One of those employees was Gautier's Mark Helgeson. "Oh we're very lucky," the craps dealer said. "I mean if we would have gotten hit with what Pensacola got hit with, we'd be out of work for probably six months."

Helgeson got back in town Thursday night. Ten hours later, he was at work, waiting for customers to tempt lady luck. The empty craps table sure beat standing at home, where Ivan knocked out electricity.

"Yes this is great," he said with a relieved smile. "This is good. If we could sleep here, it would be really good."

All 12 coast casinos were expected to be open by 5:00 -- just in time for the weekend. But with storm cleanup underway from here right through the Florida. And with the rest of Florida still picking up from Frances and Charley, weekend crowds may be pretty thin.

"We recognize one of our primary markets is the area that was hit hardest by the storm," said Crosby. "I just think what if it had been the shoe on the other foot, and we were in that position. And we can only wish the best to them."

It's estimated the state lost about $700,000 in tax revenue Wednesday, Thursday and early Friday while the casinos rode out Hurricane Ivan.