The casinos’ strong performance bodes well for the city (Biloxi, Mississippi) because of the thousands of workers employed and the millions of tax dollars generated each year. Their return to this region has also bolstered ongoing recovery efforts, as restaurants and hotels have reopened to feed and house the workers.
—USA Today, August 2, 2007
I hate to think where we would be today in this post-Katrina world, were it not for the revenue and jobs created by this industry.
—Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway on the occasion of the 15th anniversary of the Isle of Capri, August 1, 2007
When the nation awoke on the morning of August 30, 2005, after Hurricane Katrina had pounded the Gulf Coast region as well as parts of inland Louisiana and Mississippi the previous day and night, the extent of the destructive power of this storm was just beginning to be calculated and reported.
We didn’t know at the time that Katrina was to be the most destructive and costliest natural disaster in U.S. history, accounting for the deaths of more than 1,800 and causing $81.2 billion in damage. Adding to this human and economic toll, Katrina caused: the displacement of an estimated 770,000 people; the creation of debris that if stacked onto the space of a football field, would reach over 10 and a half miles high; untold environmental and health hazards, including at least 10 oil spills; incapacitating 466 facilities that handled large amounts of dangerous chemicals; compromising 170 drinking water facilities and dozens of wastewater treatment plants; promoting the spillage of sewage as well as household and industrial chemicals; 38 emergency call centers to be crippled, disrupting local emergency services; more than 3 million customer phone lines in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to be knocked out of action; and 50 percent of area radio stations and 44 percent of area television stations to go off the air.
Along with every other business sector in the region, the gaming industry suffered tremendous losses. These not only affected our employees and their families, but had residual effects that spread deeply within the fabric of the communities in all the devastated areas.
- Severely damaged or destroyed 13 casinos along the Mississippi Gulf Coast and damaged four casinos in and around New Orleans—three riverboats and one land-based facility.
- Put nearly 16,000 casino employees along the Mississippi Coast out of work, as well as thousands of people who held indirect jobs related to the casino industry.
- Caused the loss of millions in casino gaming tax revenue that was collected by state and local governments in Mississippi.
As we mark the second anniversary of this tragic event, it is useful to bring the big picture into focus. It tells us where we were on August 30, 2005, how far we have come in our recovery, and how much more there is to accomplish as we put lives, careers and futures back together. During the past 24 months:
10 properties have reopened along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino has opened its doors for the first time; six riverboat properties and one land-based property that were damaged in Louisiana have reopened.
The gaming industry has invested nearly $1.4 billion for reconstruction on the Mississippi coast and hundreds of millions more in Louisiana.
In the Gulf Coast regions of Louisiana and Mississippi, nearly 20,000 gaming industry employees are back to work. These employees have a combined annual salary of nearly $500 million (for the first quarter of ’07, Mississippi coast casinos alone had payroll of $97.98 million).
Revenues are healthy across the Gulf Coast region. For the Mississippi coast casinos in the first half of 2007, revenues were $653.48 million. In New Orleans, revenues for the land-based facility there were $204.52 million for same period.
Based on city sales tax receipts, general retail sales are up in Biloxi and are actually significantly higher than pre-storm levels.
As many of you know through previous information provided in this column or through reports in the media, earlier this year the AGA commissioned a survey of Gulf Coast leaders to determine the status of the Gulf Coast’s recovery through the eyes of the community leaders. The survey respondents reported that the gaming industry is leading the way in recovery efforts, both as a significant contributor to the overall recovery and as the fastest-recovering industry in the region.
Our industry has come together and contributed significantly to the revitalization of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans. We should be proud of that accomplishment and look ahead to the opportunities we’ll have to not only reclaim what was, but to create what has never been.
There are few chances one gets in life to make a difference, and we did that the first time around when gaming initially entered the picture in the Gulf Coast region. We changed the paradigm for success by creating jobs and bringing in a new way of life for our partners in growth.
We can look at the efforts being expended in the wake of Katrina as yet another opportunity to make a difference, only on a grander scale. Our plans—working in close partnership with the people of the region (made even closer now that we have literally weathered the storm together)—will allow us all to create another, greater paradigm for success.