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GULF COAST REBUILT


special license to reopen with only 81 machines and a restaurant in June 2006. “We worked in phases through December 2007, and consolidated operations into the hotel building on Highway 90’s north side. There are no emotional scars since we came out of it,” says Varnes. The totally new Island View Casino Resort, Gulfport’s only casino, was built on the actual footprint of Harrah’s former gaming property. According to co-owners Rick Carter and Terry Green, the site’s destruction posed unique challenges. “Like every area casino and business, we


experienced the supply-and-demand imbalance of materials to labor. Rebuilding the basic community infrastructure was long and trying, but worthwhile,” Carter says. The seven-story, 560-room Island View opened in


state


officials designed contingency plans to battle any oil potentially washing ashore. Luckily, none did, but to compensate for any potential losses, BP paid Mississippi $15 million for future statewide marketing efforts.


A positive 2010 third quarter finally halted 10 consecutive quarters of declining revenues. From September 2010 to March 2011, gaming revenues stabilized within one percent of prior years.


What about the future? Mississippi’s Gulf Coast and its gaming industry


are rebounding. Hornsby’s latest casino hotel room data totals 5,612, or 72.1 percent of pre-Katrina numbers. She says, “So many people fleeing and never returning impacted the search for qualified employees. McKenzie agrees that it has been


tough. He says, “Initially, hiring staff was challenging, as most people were caring for their own families and situations.” The 2011 “State of the State”


analysis reports that of 30 casinos statewide, the 11 Gulf Coast casinos comprise a 46 percent market share, and directly employ over 11,200 people. Almost 16 million guests visited in 2010, more than two- thirds from out-of-state.


The gaming landscape will soon change again. Later this year, Boyd Gaming will pay $278 million in


September 2006. Phase Two, completed in May 2007, housed 83,000 square feet of gaming space-the Gulf Coast’s largest-including 2,000 slots. Although a relatively new operator, Carter


recognizes the region’s strengths. He says, “Witnessing the commitment to rebuild is a testament to how far we have come in a relatively short time.” The 2011 Mississippi “State of the State Annual


Report” claims the Gulf Coast regained almost 85 percent of its pre-Katrina gaming supply in 2007, generating a record $1.3 billion in gaming revenues. The region again experienced challenges in 2008, starting with high gas prices and a recession that continues to plague the national economy. The April 2010 British Petroleum (BP) oil spill did not damage Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, but probably did damage its revenues that spring as local and out-of- town travelers may have postponed visits. Local and


cash to buy the IP Casino Resort Spa – formerly the Imperial Palace – and join Boyd’s BConnected player rewards program. Independent operator Ralph Engelstad owned the Biloxi site and its Las Vegas counterpart. His family decided to sell both casinos after his death in 2002. During Katrina, the building sustained superficial damage because of its back bay location. It reopened in December 2005 as the IP, rebranded to symbolize a fresh start. Boyd Executive Vice President/COO Paul Chakmak claims the company has long desired a Gulf Coast site for cross-marketing its multiple southern venues. IP’s strategic location near I-10 eases travel from Alabama and Florida to the east, and Louisiana and Texas to the west. The Gulf Coast also draws northern customers from Canada and Boyd’s Indiana and Illinois properties. “We visited Biloxi before breaking ground in Tunica 15 years ago. Mississippi is a welcoming business-


OCTOBER 2011 31


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