Six Months After Katrina, Casino Industry Could Rescue Gulf Coast
Posted February 23, 2006 6:00 a.m. EST
BILOXI, Miss. — From inside the Isle of Capri Casino, no one would ever know that Hurricane Katrina had hit Biloxi, Miss., nearly six months ago.
"Business is fantastic. If you look around at all of the destruction -- and yet, here we are, open, and people, they found us," said Isle casino host Bobby Carter.
But outside, it's a different story.
The winds from Katrina took casinos on barges in the Biloxi water and hurled them across nearby Highway 90, dropping them and destroying them.
For many Mississippi Gulf towns, tourism was their main source of revenue before Hurricane Katrina. Casinos provided 16,000 jobs and generated $500,000 in tax revenue per day.
With businesses and hotels closed, this money has all but dried up. To date, only three of the 10 casinos have reopened.
Once only allowed on water, the casinos now operate on land thanks to a new law passed by state legislators to allow them 800 feet on land from the median tide.
Mississippi lawmakers believe the change will help existing businesses rebuild and attract new casinos.
For example, Harrah's Casino plans to spend $1 billion to build two new casinos in Biloxi. Another company plans to build two more casinos on Point Cadet, another area wiped out by the hurricane.
"It's very gratifying to be able to get this area and other areas on the Gulf Coast -- to get them back where, I guess, life could return to normal," said Larry Ourso, a contractor with Winston-Salem-based D. H. Griffin, which is helping demolish the ruined casinos so that rebuilding can begin.
Meanwhile, the city of Biloxi is trying to find a quick solution to its lack of affordable housing for casino employees like security guard Wayne Fairley, who has worked at Isle of Capri Casino for 12 years.
"A lot of people depend upon the casinos for their livelihood and employment, and with the casinos being open, it's kind of like a shot in the arm for them," Carter said.
For Fairley though, being able to keep his job helped him cope with Katrina's devastation.
"I'm thankful, very thankful," Fairley said. "I didn't know if I'd have to go to another state and try to go to work, or what."