2004 Hurricanes Damaged Coast Casino Revenues

Raymond Viselle took a gamble while Hurricane Ivan roared through the gulf.

"When the last hurricane was coming in, we headed here," he remembered, while playing video poker at a Biloxi casino. "We wanted to get away from the hurricane."

But then Ivan turned away from Viselle's Venice, Florida home, and made a beeline toward Biloxi. Viselle got a phone call from his daughter.

"You guys are still there?," he remembered her asking.

"Get the hell out of there," she said.

So, Viselle did the only thing he could.

"We had to go back home," he said.

Two months later, Viselle was back in Biloxi. During the hurricanes, luck seemed to be on his side.

"We didn't get hit," he said with a smile on his face.

Coast casinos can't say the same thing. No, they didn't sustain much physical damage during hurricane season. But a significant percentage of their regular gamblers in Alabama and Florida did. As a result, banks of slot machine have looked rather lonely since mid September.

Chett Harrison is a marketing executive at Boomtown Casino.

"We saw probably an immediate 15% loss of business for the remainder of the month for September," he said.

The casinos have slowly recovered from that initial post hurricane hit. But Harrison is worried they may take another hit in February and March, when Florida snowbirds usually migrate to south Mississippi casinos.

"A lot of those little retirement villages, condos, winter homes got wiped out," he said, referring to towns like Punta Gorda, Florida. "So we're real concerned about the first quarter."

Raymond Viselle is still thinking about the poker hand he played during the third quarter of this year. The Florida gambler tempted lady luck and won. His property hit the jackpot. It survived the 2004 hurricane season.

Coast gaming revenues have been down ever since the four hurricanes slammed into Florida and Alabama. They fell six percent in September, and four percent in October.