Gulfport – Gulfport is back in the casino business. The Island View opened Monday evening about an hour and a half earlier than planned, giving people time to mingle, find the slot machine that felt lucky or check out the buffet offerings.
Rochelle Harper of Sister Jazz sang old standards at the north entrance, where dripping ice sculptures of pelicans kept the shrimp cool.
But first there were the speeches and the ribbon cutting.
Gulfport Mayor Brent Warr thanked owners Rick Carter and Terry Green „for putting their money and heart“ back into Gulfport to create a premium resort. Leland Speed, executive director of the Mississippi Development Authority, said the two men could have taken their insurance money and spent their time golfing in Palm Beach instead of reinvesting.
„What we need in Mississippi are more Ricks and Terrys,“ Speed said. „People with a dream and a skill to make that dream come to pass.“
The men, who have been business partners since 1988, took a different route than other casino developers after Hurricane Katrina. Carter and Green, who owned the Copa Casino, stayed focused on building back in Gulfport even though the mayor initially opposed allowing casinos to go north of U.S. 90. When Harrah’s Entertainment opted to leave the city and put its resources in Biloxi, they bought two hotels and a 40-acre site from Harrah’s for USD 55 million. They then leveraged the property to secure a quarter billion in financing.
Now, they have the only casino in the Coast’s largest city.
The gambling floor that opened Monday night inside the old Gulfport Grand Casino Oasis Hotel with 1,033 slot machines and 14 table games will be much larger by next spring. Then it will have 2,400 slot machines and 50 table games along with new restaurants, a sand-beach swimming pool and a covered parking lot. Longer-term expansions are also in the works.
Ninety percent of the 1,232 employees hired either worked for the Grand Gulfport or Copa before the storm. Many of the gamblers there for the opening, such as James T. and Janice McDowell of Birmingham, were people who gambled at those casinos. The McDowells said the Gulfport Grand had been their favorite casino before the storm so they wanted to see what the new property looked like.
They liked what they saw and so did Lucy Vann of Gulfport.
„I think it’s just beautiful,“ she said. „I’m just excited. I couldn’t wait for it to open. It’s very elegant.“
Carter complimented Roy Anderson III of Roy Anderson Corp. for completing the transformation of the hotel quickly with quality craftsmanship.
„Roy said ‚If you like this, phase two is going to blow you away,'“ Carter said.