In 1992, Bill Clinton was a candidate trying to become president. Gas was a dollar a gallon. And south Mississippi's economy was running on fumes. That summer, two riverboats docked at Biloxi's Point Cadet. Fifteen years later, those riverboats are the foundation of a billion dollar a year casino industry.
After a 27 year military career, Louis Shampagn took a gamble on the Isle of Capri. Fifteen years later, Shampagn is one of the 27 original employees who are still on the Isle of Capri payroll.
"It seems like just the other day," the slot supervisor said as he walked around the Isle's casino floor.
Next to Shampagn was Rich Westfall. He brought his family to the coast when the Isle moved from Iowa to Biloxi.
"It's a great place to be. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world right now," Westfall said.
When Westfall moved to Biloxi in 1992, the Isle of Capri was barely a $3 million endeavor. It had two riverboats, and a dusty Point Cadet parking lot. On the 15th anniversary of its opening, it's now a $270 million resort, with 700 hotel rooms. And once the party is over, another $180 million will be spent to transform the Isle again.
"The impact that we've made has been very exciting," said Westfall. "But I've got to credit the people of the coast and the people of Mississippi for taking that opportunity and really making it into something."
The Isle was the first dockside casino in Mississippi. It was also the first on shore casino post Katrina after the legislature changed Mississippi's gaming rules. General Manager Bill Kilduff believes phase three of his resort's makeover will simply add to what the Isle of Capri has created in Biloxi.
"We're just going to be a really integral part of a really vibrant economy," said Kilduff.
A new casino floor, convention space and an additional restaurant should all be added to the Isle resort over the next two years.
The first month the Isle was open, a couple hundred people had casino jobs. And Biloxi gaming revenues totaled $10 million. Last month, coast casinos had 12-thousand employees. And they raked in $107 million.