Leadership Group Focuses On Post Katrina Casino Boom

The sweets at Beau Rivage are made in the pastry shop. Down the hall, gumbo simmers in a large vat. And in the resort's butcher shop, a hefty amount of beef gets sliced so it can be served at a Beau Rivage restaurant.

George Schloegel said the food being prepared in the back of the house is sort of like the post Katrina coast. The area looks raw. And it's all mixed up. But sweet days are on the horizon.

"I think this is the coming back," he said.

Beau Rivage was the backdrop for Leadership Gulf Coast's annual lesson on gaming and its impact on south Mississippi. The Leadership class was taken to the 28th floor of the resort. The view from that floor mesmerized Leadership members. They saw hurricane debris. But they also saw plenty of prosperity on the horizon.

Paul Maxwell organized the event.

"Economics Day is designed to show them what makes the coast what it is today, and what it will be and what it can be," he said.

John Hairston remembers his Economics Day tour.

"That day I didn't realize Hurricane Katrina was coming," he said, "but I had faith in that meeting that when that event even happened, we would be able to recover very well."

These days, Hairston knows all about the post Katrina recovery efforts. He's one of the three commissioners regulating Mississippi's gaming industry. Hairston said he was "not at all surprised" by the casinos recovery, because the legislature allowed them on shore.

An industry that had 13,951 workers when the hurricane struck has slowly been recovering.  In June, 7,067 people worked at the casinos.  That number jumped to 13,500 when Beau Rivage, Hollywood and Island View flipped on their slot machines.  And now, Hairston says casino employment tops the 14,000 mark.

George Schloegel hasn't been surprised by the recovery either. As he followed the Leadership class around the Beau, he kept pointing out people inside the casino who are committed to the coast's recovery.

"This is the day that the coast is showing that we can get back to normal," he said.

Nine casinos have reopened in the 14 months since Katrina shut them down. Next week, the Silver Slipper becomes casino number 10 in south Mississippi.