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Best of Howard Stutz

Gaming Guru

Howard Stutz

Casino Magic Director Faces Post-Hurricane Challenge

17 November 2005

BAY ST. LOUIS, Mississippi – (PRESS RELEASE) -- The experience Marty Moore gained in 20 years marketing Southern Nevada casinos will be put to the test in 2006.

As the senior director of marketing for the Casino Magic, Moore will find himself at the forefront when this hurricane-ravaged community's only casino reopens.

Bay St. Louis, located roughly 30 miles west of the cluster of southern Mississippi casinos in Biloxi and Gulfport, caught the brunt of Hurricane Katrina's northern eyewall, the strongest portion of the Category 4 storm that washed ashore Aug. 29. Thousands of homes and businesses in the tiny town and the neighboring community of Waveland were leveled.

The Casino Magic, operated by Penn National Gaming, suffered irreparable damage to its 39,500-square-foot casino barge and saw its entertainment barge wrecked and carried two miles north to the other side of the bay. All the property's 500 hotel rooms had water damage, and a 200-room motel-style inn across the parking lot was condemned by structural engineers and will have to be leveled.

In the 12 months before its closing, Casino Magic had a gaming win of $87.1 million, a gaming industry report by Jefferies & Co. shows.

Moore, who joined Casino Magic 14 months ago, suffered some wind damage to his rented home in nearby Diamond Head, but he fared better than a lot of employees. There was one death reported from the property's 1,250 workers.

"Many of my employees lost everything they owned, evacuating with only the clothes on their backs," Moore said. "When I think I have it bad, I run into someone who salvaged one Christmas ornament out of all their possessions. One of my friends lost his entire house and could only find one box of soggy pictures of his wife and kids."

Moore moved to Mississippi four years ago to work with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians at the Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia.

In Nevada, Moore oversaw marketing for both the Flamingo Hilton Laughlin and New York-New York during the two properties' openings. He also had a key part in an airline baggage handling service that transported passenger luggage between hotels and McCarran International Airport.

The company operated kiosks in 15 Strip casinos, had agreements with a dozen foreign and domestic air carriers, and was experiencing double-digit growth every month when it went out of business after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which led to the elimination of off-airport baggage services.

Moore had left the business a few weeks before the terrorist attacks, but the drop in tourism in Las Vegas in the aftermath ended his job possibilities in Southern Nevada, sending him and his family to Mississippi.

Moore is determined that a hurricane won't drive him away from the Gulf Coast.

Penn National, which is considered the gaming industry's third-largest casino operator behind Harrah's Entertainment and MGM Mirage, is drawing up preliminary plans to open a temporary gaming facility at Casino Magic before launching a permanent land-based casino.

The first floor of the Casino Magic was destroyed and is being remodeled. The property sits on 600 acres, which includes the Arnold Palmer-designed Bridges Golf Course, which was also damaged in the storm.

"My 20 years in Las Vegas didn't prepare me for this event, but my experience gained in opening two casinos will be put to good use as we rebuild and relaunch Casino Magic," Moore said. "This is going to take a long time to rebuild and we have no time frame as to when we will re-open."

Moore and his wife fled the hurricane, staying in Destin, Fla., until the Thursday after the storm, when he got his first look at the damage. They stayed in motels in Alabama and Florida until power was restored to parts of the area.

In the weeks following the hurricane, the National Guard used the Casino Magic parking lot as the center for relief efforts.

If anything, Moore wanted to tell his friends and colleagues in Las Vegas that southern Mississippi is far from recovered. Many people outside of the Gulf Coast, he said, don't understand the destruction the area suffered.

"We are already starting to see complacency from the outside world," Moore said. "I am amazed at the number of people I talk with who can't believe we aren't up and running by now. The devastation is widespread and utterly catastrophic."