Storm Weary Casino Execs Meet With MS Gaming Regulators

While contractors made small improvements to Imperial Palace's casino floor, the industry's movers and shakers were upstairs, getting a much lrger perspective about gaming's long term future. Owen Nitz represented the Imperial Palace at the meeting. "This is going to be the new Imperial Palace," he told gaming commissioners. "And when we get done downstairs, it will be a mindblower."

Imperial Palace had the only coast casino barge that made it through Hurricane Katrina pretty much intact. So while most executives are designing elaborate land based casinos to take advantage of newly adopted on shore gambling rules, general manager Jon Lucas said, "We're rebuilding right where we are, on the barge."

At other end of Caillavet Street, Beau Rivage is basically doing the same thing -- gutting its resort, and remodeling its casino -- on the water and not on land. Beau's Bruce Nourse told gaming commissioners his resort could reopen on August 29, 2006 -- the one year anniversary of Katrina. "The Beau will be back, and we feel so will Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Nourse told commissioners.

That was a common theme at the gaming commission's monthly meeting. Speaker after speaker kept saying despite the storm, the coast and its casinos will survive.

Mayor A.J. Holloway said, "The governor wants to see a renaissance. I want to resurrect the renaissance that we were having."

Palace Casino general manager Keith Crosby told the regulatory group, "Our owner has said there is no bad bet in Biloxi, in Gulfport, too. The opportunities are enormous right now."

And after joking about being tired of chasing his casino after every storm, Treasure Bay's Bernie Burkholder said, "I think shore based gaming is going to give us all an opportunity to do something that will really endear this industry in building this community."

For gaming commission chairman Jerry St. Pe', the casinos are vital to south Mississippi's recovery. "There is a point in time not too far away where Mississippi is going to be the showplace, the gulf coast is going to be the showplace with regard to gaming in this country," he said.

Harrah's and Pinnacle Entertainment didn't have representatives speak at the gaming commission meeting. So regulators didn't hear anything about Grand Casino Gulfport, Grand Casino Biloxi or its next door neighbor, Casino Magic Biloxi.

As for the casinos that did show up, the Copa Casino announced it was two years away from rebuilding at the Port of Gulfport. A Hard Rock spokesman said legal issues cloud the immediate future of that resort. Imperial Palace, the Isle of Capri, and the Palace Casino all expected to open before New Year's Eve. And Beau Rivage, Treasure Bay, Boomtown, Silver Slipper and Casino Magic Bay St. Louis all said they would reopen in mid to late 2006.