Casino Industry Well Prepared For Hurricane Season

IP casino resort hosted the annual storm preparedness session. Casino operators got a briefing about hurricane season from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

"Now, let's look at 2007," said the commission's Dave Kingman, as he directed a power point presentation about storm forecasts and planning.

Gaming industry executives are measuring their state of readiness.

"I think everybody in this room has been through it enough that we've got the drill down. As Larry suggested, we're probably overly cautious. And that's good," said Keith Crosby, manager of the Palace Casino Resort.

The state's gaming commission makes the call about when casinos must close in advance of a hurricane threat.

"There was always this give and take or maybe a little battle over how early do you close and that sort of thing. What's in the forefront of everybody's mind now is the safety of their associates," says Crosby.

Larry Gregory is executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

"There's no doubt we're going to be a little more cautious and conservative in our closing time and to make sure the residents have ample time to get off this gulf coast," said Gregory.

Post Katrina concerns weigh into that decision making about closing casino resorts. Issues include evacuation routes and lack of permanent housing.

"A lot of our staff are still in trailers and not in permanent housing. We want to make sure they have enough time to secure their personal belongings and get their families safe and closing down the casino is the easy part," said the Silver Slipper's John Ferucci.

Casino resorts have a dual responsibility when it comes to keeping people safe from hurricanes. Not only must casino managers be concerned about the welfare of their own employees, they must also be certain that hotel and casino guests are evacuated early enough.

Katrina's arrival was the ultimate hard luck for Biloxi's Hard Rock Resort. The storm slammed into the property just a week before its grand opening.

"Katrina was much worse than anyone anticipated. And thank God that nobody passed away or died at our property. We did our job and got everybody out and look forward to doing the same thing again if it happens," said Joe Billheimer, Hard Rock manager.

Kingman told casino operators the commission would likely initiate closing procedures up to 24 hours before the county issues a voluntary evacuation in advance of a storm.

It usually takes a casino about 12 hours to shutdown.