Officials Say Local Casino Industry Looks Promising

The lights are flashing, the equipment is being installed, and the workers are in training here at Treasure Bay.

Just the type of action you would expect from a place anticipating to open on a small scale some time next week.

"I'm impressed with any shovel in the ground, any bulldozers out here and these people working putting these casinos back together," said Mississippi Gaming Commission executive director Larry Gregory.

This image of progress is exactly what Gregory was looking for. He, along with commission chairman Jerry St. Pe, spent the day touring South Mississippi casinos, looking at the renovation projects going on at each, and both say they are impressed.

But like many other businesses in South Mississippi, there will be Katrina-related changes.

"Clearly the rules have changed, and I would expect, speaking generically, whether its the gaming industry or any other segment of this coast, that the timelines associated with evacuations and preparation will be longer than they have in the past," said St. Pe.

So instead of issuing evacuations hours before a storm, it may be days.

But now the men are focused on getting the casinos back up and running, and say the way they are looking now, they believe 12,000 people will be working within the casino industry by the end of this year, with even more to come, making Treasure Bay just a small example of what lies ahead.

"Easily by the year 2008, you're going to see, I would say, between 19 to 21 casinos in this area. You're going to see easily around 20-plus thousand casino employees. And you saw a $1.2 billion industry down on the Gulf Coast pre-Katrina. Several years from now, we're going to look back and see a $1.6 billion, $1.7 billion gross gaming revenue," said Gregory.

Here's a breakdown of what casinos are expected to open this year. The Grand Casino as well as Boomtown, both in Biloxi, are expected to open in July. The Beau Rivage is expected to open its doors on August 29. The Hollywood Casino in Bay St. Louis is expected to open in September.