Troy Manthey runs the Starship dining yacht. As he walked along the dock adjacent to Casino Row, he said, "The casinos want to keep the folks on the property. And we're a distraction and not an attraction."
Burt Keenan agreed with that assessment. Keenan is Starship's chairman of the board. Keenan said, "It's safe to say it's been a financial disaster."
Starship first sailed out of its Biloxi dock in late 1999. Since then, it's lost close to five million dollars. According to the company, just seven percent of its passengers came from casinos. And the Starship executives point to that as the attraction's undoing. "We're not asking for a subsidy, for them to write us a check," Manthey said. "We're just asking for fair access, to allow us access to educate the folks that are visiting here on the coast, tell them that Starship exists. There is some other things to do besides gamble."
Starship sent a copy of the news release announcing that it's closed to the Gulf Coast Gaming Association. The casino group disputed claims that it hasn't been a good neighbor. "If that was the case," gaming association executive director Beverly Martin said, "then I doubt the casinos would be spending the half million dollars a year that we've spent for the last three years doing destination marketing with the Harrison County Tourism Commission."
The Palace Casino even put a Starship link on the front page of the resort's web page.
Nevertheless, the dining yacht owners contend that companies like theirs can't survive unless casinos do more for non-casino businesses. "Unless you develop that kind of infrastructure that will support the kind of activities that we want for the coast," said Keenan, "I don't think that they have a chance."
Starship's last Biloxi cruise was Sunday. It reopens in Tampa on November 5, 2001.
Starship had 55 Biloxi employees. Executives tell us 15 of their workers will transfer to Florida, so they can stay with the company.