Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Cashing in on Katrina: Guess Who's Coming out a Winner

Gary Rivlin in NY Times "Bright Spot on Gulf as Casinos Rush to Rebuild"

Anyone visiting this town in the days after Hurricane Katrina might reasonably have concluded that it would be a long while before slot machines were again ringing their incessant chimes. The storm destroyed 9 of 10 floating casinos in Biloxi, and the tenth suffered significant damage.

Yet so well financed is the gambling industry - and so profitable the facilities that line the beaches here - that one casino is set to open its doors to the public on Dec. 22. Another is to reopen the day after Christmas. A third, the Palace Casino, will have spent $23 million in four months to reopen by New Year's Eve, said the general manager, Keith Crosby.

All 10 Biloxi casinos have told the city they will rebuild, and most plan larger, more elaborate facilities. One, Harrah's Entertainment Inc., the world's largest gambling company, has told city officials that it plans to invest as much as $1 billion in a new resort-casino - a figure sizable enough to catch people's attention even in Las Vegas. And a growing list of investors, looking to take advantage of a new state law allowing the first-ever land-based casinos, is seeking an audience with city officials or state regulators in Jackson.(more)

Read that against David Weir in Salon "Everything's broken"

(...) Until Katrina, a series of large barges anchored offshore served as casinos, and were by far the largest employers in the area. When the storm pushed the barges ashore, they cut wide swaths over the land, taking out everything in their path. Today, they sit far inland, with more than a few flattened houses and possibly bodies still underneath.

Soon after the storm, local and state officials announced that from now on they will locate the casinos on land, within the first 800 feet of Biloxi's shore. Some of this new development will cut directly into East Biloxi's worst-hit sections.

Not surprisingly, rumors fly around these neighborhoods: "The remaining houses will all be flattened for new casinos. There won't be a place for any of us to live around here anymore."

The threat seems credible. Amid a total pre-storm population of about 50,000 in Biloxi, the casinos accounted for some 30,000 jobs. The first casino reopenings are scheduled for later this month.

"Nobody -- the local, county or state government -- wants to put anyone out of their home," says Councilman Lawrence. "But it's going to be hard for our people on minimum incomes to rebuild here now. Houses will cost $60,000 to $100,000. It's hard to secure a loan.

"Our old way of life in Biloxi is gone," he concludes. "What we got now is gaming. Where we lived will probably be a prime onshore gambling site now. We will lose a lot of the outer perimeter of East Biloxi."

Now that it's winter, cold fronts are sweeping down from the north, so volunteers from Hands On USA deliver blankets and coats, items the poor of East Biloxi used to own but now do not." (more)


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