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NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana – (PRESS RELEASE) -- Talk about taking your work home with you, for Kim Etland the Treasure Chest Casino is her home.
As general manager of a floating gaming vessel moored in Lake Pontchartrain, Etland was tasked with bringing the 24,000-square-foot, multilevel riverboat-themed facility back to life after it was closed for seven weeks in Hurricane Katrina's aftermath.
Her job was made even more difficult when her own home in the nearby community of Metaire was heavily damaged and rendered unlivable by flooding that followed the storm.
Etland took up residence in a modest motor home parked in the Treasure Chest's parking lot, making the casino her personal refuge.
"I had hoped to be back in my home by Thanksgiving, but I don't think that will happen," said Etland, a Las Vegas native who graduated from Valley High School in the 1970s. Her home, she said, had about four feet of water, leaving a layer of mold in the downstairs. All the carpeting, Sheetrock and furniture on the first floor had to be removed.
Etland moved to New Orleans 12 years ago to work at a casino operated by Hilton Hotels Corp. She joined the Treasure Chest, which is owned by Boyd Gaming, in 1997.
Restoring the Treasure Chest, the second casino to reopen in New Orleans since Katrina, had its challenges.
The casino boat and dockside facilities had minimal damage. Etland, along with casino managers and other Boyd Gaming executives, commandeered a helicopter to land at the Treasure Chest site two days after the storm.
From the air, she could see the flooding at her own house. She lets visitors view dozens of photographs from the disaster.
She and assistant general manager John Sou have started a collection of hurricane recovery items, including canned water and "meals ready to eat" rations.
Getting the Treasure Chest reopen, she said, helped calm her concerns.
"Everyone scattered when the storm hit," Etland said. "Reopening helped bring some folks back."
The reopening of the Treasure Chest was big news in New Orleans. Etland found herself in the center of a media crush; she was interviewed by CNN.
Even with less than half its work force returning and operating under limited hours -- noon to 3 a.m. as opposed to its usual 24-hour schedule -- the Treasure Chest has been packed with area residents looking for some sense of a normal life and hurricane relief workers looking for recreation.
Flooding that annihilated much of New Orleans also affected Kenner, the community around the Treasure Chest.
Many of the casino's regular customers, and employees, haven't returned because their homes were infested with mold, debris and contamination once the floodwater receded.
Etland said it was the area's inhabitants that made Treasure Chest a successful neighborhood casino in the truest sense.
"We were 'Cheers,' " Etland said. "This was a casino for the local residents. That's who we're seeing during the week and it's the construction workers on the weekend. It's good to see our friends again."
Etland spends many hours on the casino floor visiting with casino customers, some who have been coming to the Treasure Chest for years.
Reopening has allowed the Treasure Chest employees to catch up with their customers and see how people fared in the hurricane's aftermath.
The boat's small deli is doing strong business because many of the community's restaurants, including fast-food establishments, have limited menu offerings.
In the 12 months before Hurricane Katrina, the Treasure Chest averaged about $9.5 million a month in gaming revenue.
Open 22 days and for limited hours in October, the Treasure Chest collected revenue of $10.3 million, a 14.2 percent increase from $9 million for the same month a year ago.
Etland said lack of entertainment offerings in New Orleans, including shuttered movie theaters and nonexistent sporting events, have made the Treasure Chest a welcome place for a night out.
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