Boomtown Casino sustained significant damage during the hurricane. In fact, its barge had to be hauled to Pascagoula for repairs. On Wednesday, the floating casino was back at its back bay location. And by Thursday morning, so were more than a thousand of Boomtown's regular customers.
The Steinhoffs were a pretty good reflection of the crowd outside Boomtown Casino. Many of the people in line were south Mississippi hurricane victims.
"We lost everything we had," Lee Steinhoff said.
His house was in Pass Christian. And the hurricane damage has made it tough on the Steinhoffs to get out and enjoy themselves.
"We're not really able," Colleen Steinhoff said.
Since December, the only exception has been occasion trips to coast casinos.
"We've been at every one of them since they opened back," Mr. Steinhoff admitted. "We enjoy Boomtown, have for a long time."
Just then, Boomtown general manager Pat Murphy stepped outside.
"Welcome home," he yelled to the crowd. "Boomtown is open."
Cheers covered up the rebuilding sounds echoing from back bay neighborhood across the street.
Boomtown became the fifth coast casino to reopen since the hurricane.
"It's delightful. It's fantastic. It's even better than the first time," Murphy said, thinking back to Boomtown's initial foray into the coast casino market in 1993. "It's kind of like a dream come true for the company."
Forrest Rodolfich is one of 465 pre-Katrina workers who are back on Boomtown's payroll.
"I went to work at the Isle in December. And I left in May to come back to the Boomtown," the two year Boomtown dealer said.
When the casino first reopened, Rodolfich was assigned a blackjack table with a $25 minimum. He stood there and waited. He sighed. He coughed. He folded his arms. He tapped his hands on the table. But early on, he never dealt any cards.
"We've already been here an hour and ain't done nothing," he lamented.
Rodolfich has been doing a lot of standing around and waiting since Katrina. Most of it has been waiting for contractors to repair the damage at his back bay home. Before the storm, Rodolfich lived on Croesus St. He was within walking distance of his Boomtown employer. When Katrina came ashore 10 months ago, it sent him scurrying for cover.
"Up in the attic, me and my son and a cat," he remembered.
They waited there eight hours and helplessly watched their rental house get torn apart by flood waters. While it's being repaired, Rodolfich is living in west Biloxi and no longer walking to the back bay casino.
"Now I'm driving 10 miles there and 10 miles back," he said.
On opening day, Rodolfich and the other Boomtown dealers all wore orange T-shirts, with the message "We're back in the saddle" emblazoned across them.
"I prefer to be here because it's right by the house and all," he said, confident his one story home would eventually be livable again.
What Rodolfich didn't know was that while he was at his blackjack table, contractors were at his home. The casino employee didn't expect them to be back so soon.
With his job secure, and his house being repaired, Rodolfich is sure everything is going to be all right.
"It's a good day," he said. "It's going to be all right."
It's a feeling shared by Boomtown's general manager.
"We're here. We're Boomtown. We're always here."