IP Changes Its Name And Its Approach

There was a time when even IP executives admit their property sort of stuck out like a sore thumb on Biloxi's horizon. Part of the problem admits IP trustee Jeff Cooper was a running feud between the late IP owner Ralph Engelstad and a host of elected leaders.

"It was a rocky start," Cooper noted.

The city of Biloxi had issues with Engelstad over an extra floor added to the hotel tower. Harrison County battled with Engelstad over taxes. The Secretary of State and Englestad argued over tidelands payments. On top of that, action at IP slots and table games after its 1997 opening was slow.

"In fact, I would come down here monthly and I'd make a tour of the other casinos," Cooper remembered. "I could see the potential. Yet it wasn't being realized here."

Since Katrina, everything about IP has changed. Used furniture has been replaced by new furniture. And new restaurants have opened up. Like the flames that decorate IP's Carnival de Brazil restaurant, the resort is suddenly on fire. Frequent visitors like Gabe DiGregorio have taken note of the changes.

"To me, it's a completely different place as far as I'm concerned. It's just beautiful," the longtime Biloxi barber said during one of his visits to IP.

Industry insiders consider IP one of their rising stars. At December's gaming commission meeting in Biloxi, chairman Jerry St. Pe' said properties like IP were "a reflection on this industry's continued confidence in the market here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast."

Like Cooper, Owen Nitz is an IP Trustee. He realized the day after Katrina, changes had to be made if the resort was going to reopen.

"Jeff and I made the decision to go forward, and you know something, it really, it turns out, actually was kind of a gamble," he said.

Based on the crowds that routinely fill the IP gaming barge, that gamble is paying big dividends. The dividends started to pay off a year ago, when IP was the first resort to reopen its doors after Katrina. When it did, it doubled its employee payroll. It used the hurricane reconstruction period last year to modernize its resort.

"Jeff has a comment that if you come in here and see anything that reminds you of what it was before, we spent a lot of money for nothing," said Nitz.

The spending spree isn't over. IP's trustees have access to surrounding properties near Back Bay Boulevard for expansion opportunities. And they're working on a new master plan to capitalize on their sudden success on Biloxi's Back Bay.

"I see something that Ralph would really be proud of," Cooper said, referring to the late owner who brought IP to Biloxi a decade ago. "Times have changed. And fortunately, the IP made the big change."

The IP and the Beau Rivage are the only gambling facilities in south Mississippi that still have all of their slot machines and table games on a floating barge.