Maridel Besa's Filipino accent is easy to hear when she talks with her Beau Rivage customers. Besa moved from the Philippines to Mississippi in 1999 and immediately got a job at Beau Rivage.
Three months after she cleaned her first table, her husband died of cancer. Suddenly, Besa and her young son were alone in a foreign country. "Beau Rivage helped me so much," Besa said, "especially the time that I lost my husband, they were the one's that always supported me. They're my family all right. This is my family, that's for sure."
In the uniforms office across the street from Grand Casino Gulfport, Chris Necaise has her own family. Necaise runs the uniforms department. She says the job has helped her forget six years of misery.
"It was a very horrible time," remembered Necaise.
Between 1986 and the early part of 1993, Necaise needed food stamps to pay for basic necessities. "It was humiliating," she said.
Necaise said the humiliation ended the day she landed her uniform position. Now, she has a steady job, good friends, and a good salary. Plus, the former welfare recipient owns property near Orange Grove. "I have my son. I have my house. I have my dogs and my cats. And it's my house," she boasted.
At Jim and Cori Richardello's house, guitar music fills the living room. If Jim Richardello ever wrote a song about his life, the casino shift manager said it would be titled "I've climbed, I'm almost to the top, but I'm still climbing."
"Life's great," Richardello said. "It's less of a struggle. We're both doing real well at our jobs. We're enjoying our work. And this is our home now."
Home has amenities in it Richardello said the family couldn't afford before he got a casino job, and his wife got hired by an airline. "It was a struggle. We had a used washer and dryer. We both drove clunkers. Life's a little easier now," the casino worker said.
Now, Richardello's son can play on the family's new computer. And the casino worker can play his guitar without worrying about his future. "I've had plenty of job offers from the midwest and Vegas and stuff. But I'd just like to stay here," he said.
Maridel Besa feels the same way. Beau Rivage's 2001 employee of the year said she can't imagine a better place to work. "This is my first job here. And I'm really enjoying it."
Besa then smiled and said, "As long as Beau Rivage wants me to stay here, I'll stay."
Just before the arrival of casinos, the average Mississippi family made $24,000 a year. According to the 2000 census, family income has jumped to $37,000. That's more than a 50% increase. On an individual level, a Harrison County Development Commission report says one out of every four casino workers makes at least $20,000 a year.
The casino job market hasn't always produced good news. In the last 10 years, three coast casinos shut their doors. As a result, more than a thousand people lost their jobs.
Layoffs have also been a recurring problem. For instance, last October, Beau Rivage and Casino Magic Biloxi told 400 people they were no longer needed. When Beau Rivage president Jeff Dahl was asked about his company's layoffs, he said it was the only day he has ever been unhappy about going to work.