Two previous storms poked small holes in Treasure Bay's floating barge. Katrina's punch was so powerful, it smashed a large hole in the casino's superstructure, its employment base and its budget. And in the process, it forever changed the Biloxi skyline.
Bernie Burkholder laughs to keep from crying. His casino floor sustained what he calls, "Total devastation." An area that once had so much activity had shriveled up to nothing.
"They don't look as big when they're empty," he said while standing in the middle of what was once a two story casino.
Treasure Bay wasn't exactly empty. Its barge was littered with coin cups, and slot machine wires that somehow survived Katrina's wild ride. The same can't be said for the barge.
"This vessel unfortunately is destined to be demolished," Burkholder said.
Treasure Bay's president gave WLOX News a final look at the interior of his casino barge.
As Burkholder walked past the center section of the barge, he said, "These were the table games or pit areas that we're walking along here."
Many of the games that were once in this area got washed out to sea, through the walls that now look like windows. A second floor micro brewery looked pretty much intact.
But according to Burkholder, "The first floor really took a beating."
An empty keg was on the first floor. It sat next to the area where a front entrance bar used to serve patrons. The centerpiece of that bar was a pirate ship that extended right up to the second floor ceiling. It was one of the signatures of a floating Biloxi casino that Burkholder operated for more than a decade.
When asked how he pictures rebuilding Treasure Bay, Burkholder said, "You have to totally shift gears on your thought process."
The Treasure Bay executive was part of the coast delegation that successfully lobbied lawmakers right after the hurricane to change gambling laws. Instead of floating, Harrison and Hancock County casinos can be up to 800 feet inland. Treasure Bay is about to take advantage of the new rule.
"This vessel as it existed is a thing of the past, it will be demolished," Burkholder said. "And a new structure, a shore based structure needs to be built."
Temporarily, Treasure Bay's shore based casino will be across the street, on the second floor of its Highway 90 hotel. And it should open early this fall. Plans for a permanent casinos are still being designed.