arrah’s New Orleans Hotel and Casino suspended the activities in the casino, and the hotel also closed for business yesterday. Boyd Gaming already closed its property, as well as the Treasure Chest Casino. Other smaller casinos and slot parlors throughout the Atchafalaya Basin region west of New Orleans to Lake Charles, Louisiana, were closed or preparing to close.
Isle of Capri Casinos announced that the company closed its casino in Natchez, temporarily due to Hurricane Gustav yesterday. "The Mississippi Gaming Commission has issued an order for our casino to close, however, our hotel, which is not located on the water, remains open. We are taking all safety precautions and encourage our guests and employees to seek shelter in a safe area," said Tony Scudiero, VP and general manager.
Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos were cautiously operating, but remained ready to shutter themselves if the storm approached any closer than currently forecast. Since Katrina, Mississippi has changed its laws, allowing the rebuilt casinos to be constructed on land near the shoreline rather than strictly on anchored barges.
The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered to the 12 casinos on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to begin closure procedures at 7 a.m., Sunday because of the impending threat of Hurricane Gustav. Casino customers were escorted off the property and casino employees, working with Mississippi Gaming Commission agents and auditors, began preparations to close their doors, gaming officials said.
The 12 casinos operating along the coast on August 29, 2005, were either flooded or carried away by Katrina’s powerful winds and storm surge. It was several months before the first one reopened. Now, some casino barges are placed inside special dams that help protect the structures from changing water conditions and adverse weather. But if another major storm hit, no one knows for sure if the protections would be enough.
Despite the change, Chett Harrison, general manager of Boomtown Casino in Biloxi, said if Gustav gains strength over the warm coastal waters, it could have a big impact.
"We have obviously taken measures, but anytime you have that amount of rise in water anything can happen, even with the measures we have taken," Harrison said. "We will prepare ourselves the best we can."
Gary Thompson, spokesman for Harrah’s Entertainment, said of the decision to close well before any mandatory order, "It give our employees a chance to make plans if they wish to evacuate the area."
"Most of the casinos are now on land and they are built in the permanent structures that survived Katrina very well, so the impact is not going to be the same," said Janice Jones, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. "But we are hoping that it is going to go west or east."
Gustav was predicted to strengthen to a Category 3 hurricane as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico and could make landfall anywhere from Florida to Texas. Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour has issued a state of emergency because of the threat posed by the storm.
Jones said Gustav will delay a marketing campaign to lure tourists to the coast. Since Katrina, coast casinos have been affected by rising fuel prices, a weak economy and competition from Indian reservation casinos in Florida.
"We are doing a golf, gaming, and fishing package for the months of September and October," Jones said. "We were hoping to launch the campaign on Monday, but we are obviously ... going to wait and see what happens."