Smaller Grand Casino in Biloxi Planned - Sunday 26th of March 2006

by Howard Stutz

Las Vegas Gaming Wire

MISSISSIPPI Harrah's Entertainment will reopen a smaller version of the Grand Casino in Biloxi, Miss., this summer as the company plans to reconfigure the Mississippi Gulf Coast site into a destination resort, officials said Tuesday.

Harrah's didn't disclose a cost to redevelop its existing land-based casinos in Biloxi but said the opening this summer would be the first step toward re-entering the Biloxi market. The planned hotel-casino, which will carry either a Harrah's or Horseshoe brand name, is being designed. The company hopes to release details this summer.

Meanwhile, Harrah's will renovate a 500-room hotel tower the company owns across state Highway 90 from the primary site of the Grand Casino, which was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The tower's convention space will be redesigned to include a 35,000-square-foot casino for more than 800 slot machines and more than 20 table games. The company didn't give precise numbers of table game and slots.

In addition to the hotel and casino, the redesigned property will include a steakhouse and buffet. The property will employ more than 1,000 workers.

"We're excited to begin the process of rebuilding on the Mississippi Gulf Coast," Harrah's Chairman Gary Loveman said in a statement.

Mississippi Gaming Commission Executive Director Larry Gregory said Harrah's will need to gain regulatory approval since it is moving its casino off water and onto land. Last year, Mississippi changed gaming laws and allowed casinos in the Gulf Coast to move 800 feet off of water.

When Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Mississippi Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 13 casinos in Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis were either destroyed or heavily damaged. More than 17,000 workers were left unemployed. The shuttered casinos cost the state approximately $500,000 a day in lost tax revenues.

Three casinos in Biloxi, the Imperial Palace, The Palace, and Isle of Capri, reopened in December. In January and February, those three casinos had collective gaming revenues of $123 million, about 70 percent of what nine Biloxi casinos reported a year ago.

"There seems to be a contagious fever on the Gulf Coast," Gregory said. "The casinos are doing well."

MGM Mirage's Beau Rivage in Biloxi, the state's largest casino, is expected to reopen later this year. Plans are also in the works this year to reopen Casino Magic in Bay St. Louis, the Copa in Gulfport, and the Boomtown and the Treasure Bay in Biloxi.

"It's possible we'll have 10,000 to 12,000 of our employees back to work by the end of the year," Gregory said. "The biggest question seems to be where these workers will live because it's still a difficult place to find housing."

Harrah's other Grand Casino in Gulfport was also destroyed by the hurricane. Last week, the company closed a sale of the site for $250 million to Gulfside Casino Partnership.

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