One of the most devastating events of 2005 was the wrath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita along the Gulf Coast of the United States in August and September. Beyond the thousands of deaths, millions (and perhaps billions) in property damage and the continued hardships placed on the people of the area and its local and state economies was the sweeping destruction of the water-based casinos in Mississippi and those in Louisiana. At least, in some sense, the end of the year is bringing those casinos back into business.
Mississippi changed their long standing laws in October and, in the future, will now allow casinos to be built on land. The thought is that this will help to prevent the sweeping devastation of those properties, which are responsible for millions in tax revenues for the state and local governments and are a prime employer for many in the area. One of the first to take advantage of this change in the laws is the Isle of Capri Casinos organization, which reopened during this week with their Capri Casino Resort in Biloxi, MS. Two other casinos in the area, the Palace Casino and the Imperial Palace Biloxi are also ready to reopen, although the Imperial Palace will still remain a floating casino.
Those businesses, however, are a few of the bright spots in an otherwise still suffering area. Harrah's has decided to sell off its Grand Casino property in Gulfport to Gulfside Casino Partnership, the owners of the neighboring Copa Casino operation. Both properties were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina and, rather than go through the rebuilding operations, Harrah's is selling the Grand "as is" to the Copa owners. Gulfside Casino Partnerships will use the additional area to expand its Copa Casino operation in Gulfport.
Other Harrah's properties are in question as well. Their dual Lake Charles operations are still on hold as a result of the damage from both Katrina and Rita and could be combined into one casino. A final decision on their state will be made in February, according to Harrah's officials. The New Orleans Harrah's, which has been dark since Hurricane Katrina ripped the Big Easy in August, is scheduled to reopen in February and the World Series of Poker Circuit stop scheduled for May is still planned to take place. Work also is continuing for the expansion of Harrah's operation in New Orleans, as a planned 450-room hotel is due to be opened in September of 2006.
Although there is still much to be achieved, the return of the casinos to the Gulf Coast will help to bring jobs back to the area as well as the valuable tourist industry that is needed for continued survival of the once-vital and exciting area. Expect not only the gaming industry to be at the forefront of the Gulf's revival but also one of the keys to improvement across the board for the affected citizens of the area. It will be one of the stories that we'll continue to watch in 2006.
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