Casinos Reopen Just Two Days After Gustav's Arrival

By Brad Kessie - bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - People stood outside their favorite south Mississippi gambling parlors Wednesday, waiting for a chance to tempt lady luck again.

As soon as casinos passed their city and state safety inspections, they were given permission to reopen. Gamblers quickly rushed inside and looked for a slot machine to play. Ten of the area's 11 casinos opened Wednesday, just three days after Gustav forced them to close.

Jeff Gephart hoisted the stars and stripes up a Beau Rivage flag pole, past a sign that told a Gustav weary community the Beau was back.

"Just proud to be the one that's chosen to raise the flag and open the place in that manner," the Beau employee said.

The flashy marquee could be seen from the resort's call center inside the Biloxi resort. Matt Flemming is the company's vice president of customer care. His team works in that office.

"We were one of the first operational departments up and running. And the phones were ringing off the hook immediately," he said.

Since eight o'clock Tuesday night, operators had booked room reservations, mostly for Louisiana evacuees, and Floridians getting away from the storms Hannah and Ike.

"We have people fleeing to here which is very positive for us," Flemming said.

If you added up the Wednesday morning numbers on Beau's call board, more than 2,000 people had contacted the resort. Flemming said that was significantly more than a typical day at the call center.  His operators said many of the callers looked for some sort of escape from Gustav's mess.

Johanna Avicola works in the call center.

"A lot of them coming in from Baton Rouge, because they don't have any electricity up there. Same thing for Metairie," she said.

At the north end of Caillavet Street, "Welcome back to the IP," shouted a marketing executive as soon as the back bay casino got permission to reopen.  That was at 12:30.

By 5:00, all of Harrison County's casinos were open again, just three days after the gaming commission ordered them to close.

Jon Lucas is the IP's general manager.

"This one was a little bit easier to come back from than the Katrina one, that's for sure," he said.

But with prime casino markets in storm recovery mode, gaming executives are betting that the next few months will be slower than normal.

"You just brace yourself and hope for the best, and hope that people can be resilient and the business will bounce back," said Lucas.

Because 10 casinos are open again, 13,000 people are back at work.

The only casino still closed is Silver Slipper near Hancock County's Lakeshore community. It should reopen in a few days, once electrical and plumbing problems are repaired.