Casino Owners make Storm Plans

Coast casino owners are hoping for a quiet hurricane season like last year, but are planning for the worst.

A meeting today with casino operators, the Mississippi Gaming Commission, local government officials and emergency personnel at IP Casino Resort will ensure all plans are coordinated should a hurricane target the Coast.

The meeting is held every year, and „we think we’re well prepared,“ said Larry Gregory, executive director of the MGC.

IP Casino will also host a community hurricane awareness expo June 29 to July 1 said Elaine Stevens, IP communications director.

Pre-Katrina, the casinos closed 24 hours in advance of the storm hitting shore. Post-Katrina, that could be sooner, said Gregory.

„People are not in permanent housing,“ and employees need time to secure their homes and evacuate.

„We’re trying to shoot for a window of 10 to 12 hours before that evacuation order is going to come out,“ Gaming Commission Liaison Dave Kingman said.

„One of the first operating policies we put on paper at Island View was a hurricane closing and evacuation plan,“ said CEO Lindsey Inman. One of the best procedures, Inman said, was allowing the casinos to move onshore.

Hard Rock Casino President Joe Billhimer said although the casino barge was destroyed, the hotel withstood the Category 5 storm. He thinks there would be half as much damage if the same size storm as Katrina hits again.

But Kingman said, „Just because they’re onshore doesn’t automatically reduce the potential for damage.“

There has never been a casualty at the casinos during an evacuation and the commission aims to keep that perfect record.

IP Casino has extra protection since Katrina. Hurricane shutters that can withstand winds above 200 miles per hour and stop debris from breaking the windows will cover the porte-cochere.

Rich Westfall, director of community development at Isle of Capri Casino, said most of the procedures are the same since Katrina. The new building opened in May 2005 and survived the storm well enough to allow the casino to be the second to reopen on the Coast. The expansion now under way will be built higher and stronger.

Silver Slipper was the first land-based casino after Katrina and was designed with flow-through parking on the ground floor to minimize damage. They also have an employee hotline and emergency information on the casino Web site.

Just before Katrina came Hurricane Dennis in July 2005. „It was a close call,“ said Bob Davidge, public relations director for Hollywood Casino Bay St. Louis, and a true test of the resort’s hurricane plans that were updated as a result, shortly before Katrina.