A Winning Bet: Post-Katrina Law moves Coast casinos on land

This week we celebrate the 30th anniversary of legalized casino gambling in Mississippi.

After Hurricane Katrina’s destruction along the Coast, the gaming industry almost went with it. News 25’s Sabria Reid has more on the legislation which saved Mississippi’s winning bet.

A historic natural disaster changed Mississippi’s gaming industry forever. August 29th, 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated South Mississippi, killing 236 people, leaving 67 people missing, and billions of dollars of damage. M2 Media Corp Owner Michael Sunderman said, “I came back a day and a half after and I drove down onto Beach Boulevard and I didn’t recognize anything. I just thought to myself, ‘how will we ever come back from this,’ and I’m sure the casinos were thinking the same thing, ‘is it worth rebuilding?’”

Casino owners had two options: “You can take your check and leave or you can take your check and reinvest, and thankfully, most all of them reinvested and rebuilt.”

Lifelong Biloxi resident Vincent Creel said, “The state of Mississippi said we have to preserve this revenue stream. We have to preserve this economic engine and we’re going to allow it to come 800 feet on shore.”

On October 17th, 2005, in a special legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers passed a new onshore gaming law, only then did casinos decide to stay and rebuild on Mississippi land. “It was a savior to the industry and to Coast tourism and to jobs.”

Beau Rivage COO and President Brandon Dardeau said, “Our particular company came in, gutted the entire facility, I think the spend was around $700 million.”

MGM Resorts International Vice President Legal Council Anthony Delvescovo said, “Our company pledged from day one to build back bigger and better. Within one year we met that goal by reopening on the anniversary of the one year when Katrina occurred.”

As devastating as it was, Katrina was an economic boost for South Mississippi and the gaming industry. “Taxes went up, cities saw more revenue coming in, school systems had more money to build and expand and put new campuses up.”

The casino industry has continued to prosper despite other storms, the BP oil spill, and the COVID pandemic. “During the pandemic, when you really didn’t want to fly on planes or couldn’t fly on planes, that was to our benefit, I hate to say that, because people got in cars, in the safety of their cars and drove down and casinos and the tourism bureau had a great safety program developed to keep our guests safe.”

Mississippi casinos grossed $2.7 billion last year in gaming revenue and according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission, $1.6 billion was generated on the Coast.

Tune it to News 25 on Wednesday for the final part of ‘A Winning Bet,’ the Future of Mississippi Gaming.

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