BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Executives at a Biloxi casino said closing Interstate 110 at a time when tens of thousands of people are expected in the area was not a well thought out decision. Palace Casino General Manager Keith Crosby says he's worried how employees will be able to get work Saturday night. He shares the Mississippi Hotel and Lodging Association's concern that news about possible traffic delays could encourage visitors to go elsewhere.
Saturday night, I-110 will be shut down and MDOT crews will blow up the Big Ridge Road Bridge as part of an improvement project. With heavy traffic expected from a free Darius Rucker concert and Scrapin' the Coast, Palace Casino officials are calling the I-110 shut down bad timing.
Guests go to the Palace Casino hoping for a stroke of good luck. Casino officials said having the I-110 close in the middle of two major tourism related events feels a lot like bad luck.
"There's two issues: One, our guests getting in and out of the property, and our employees getting in and out to service our guests," said General Manager Keith Crosby. "Seven o'clock on a Saturday night is right in the middle of shift change for the busiest period of time that we have."
The Palace Casino has roughly 800 employees. Officials said they had to come up with a strategy to not to end up shorthanded should workers get stuck in heavy traffic.
"We've literally said, 'Before you release your employee from day shift, make sure that their swing shift replacement has arrived.' We anticipate them not being able to get here on time," Crosby said.
The casino has been using social media to alert guests of possible traffic delays, but he worries doing this may actually be driving customers away."
"The detour certainly isn't going to encourage people," said Crosby. "But by the same token, the more we communicate what's happening, the more we're going to discourage people from coming. I think that's the big problem. You use social media and all the different outlets to communicate what's happening because there's an unusual event. The solution to the average guest is, 'Maybe I'll just go somewhere else,' or 'I won't go'. That's bad for everybody's business and, again, doesn't make any sense. "
Crosby said, "I don't think we thought this one out. If we're trying to position ourselves as a tier one destination then this isn't the type of behavior that is consistent with that goal."
MDOT has said the bridge project demolition has involved months of planning with multiple stakeholders. Officials added the timing was purposely chosen to be between Father's Day and the Fourth of July, so as not to impact tourism even more.
MDOT officials said they realize the project will cause traffic delays, but that is a temporary situation that is usually part of any type of road improvement project.
Harrah's Gulf Coast officials said the RSVP that was done through Ticketmaster was just to give the company an idea of how many people to expect. However, officials say you do not have to have a ticket to enter the concert, which is free to the public. The gates will open at 5pm with two opening acts before Darius Rucker takes the stage at 7pm.