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Howard Stutz

Harrah's Unloads Gulfport Casino

21 December 2005

Harrah's Entertainment reduced its losses in the hurricane-ravaged Mississippi Gulf Coast, agreeing on Tuesday to sell what's left of the Grand Casino Gulfport to owners of another destroyed casino.

In announcing the deal, Harrah's said it would concentrate on rebuilding the Grand Casino Biloxi, which was also destroyed by Hurricane Katrina on Aug. 29. The massive storm damaged or demolished 13 casinos in the Mississippi communities of Biloxi, Gulfport, and Bay St. Louis, wiping out 17,000 jobs.

Harrah's didn't disclose a sales price for the remaining Grand Casino Gulfport assets and the 14-acre site to Gulfside Casino Partnership, which owned and operated the Copa Casino. However, the agreement calls for all assets to be sold in "as is" condition and Harrah's will retain all insurance proceeds.

Before Katrina hit, the Grand Casino included 1,000 hotel rooms. One of casino's two barges was washed across Highway 90 and imploded by the Mississippi Department of Transportation to reopen the road. The main casino, which had 102,000 square feet of gaming space, was damaged beyond repair.

The Copa Casino, which was demolished by construction crews following the hurricane, didn't operate a hotel and lost its 41,000-square-foot casino barge in the storm.

The transaction, which is expected to close by March, allows the Copa owners to dominate the Gulfport casino market.

"By selling these assets to our neighbors in Gulfport, we will give the owners of the Copa Casino site the additional space they need to develop an ambitious project of their own," said Anthony Sanfilippo, president of Harrah's Central Division.

Harrah's had planned to renovate the Grand Casino Biloxi into a Horseshoe brand casino before the storm. The Biloxi site had a 134,000-square-foot floating casino and 975 hotel rooms.

The company is expected to rebuild the casino portion over land now that Mississippi's new gaming regulations allow casinos to move on shore. The company did not a disclose a rebuilding timetable.

Three of the destroyed Biloxi casinos are expected to reopen by next week, with the Imperial Palace opening Thursday.

In November, the state's gaming revenues declined 38.1 percent from the prior year because of the closed Gulf Coast properties. Casino in Mississippi River towns of Tunica and Vicksburg earned $134.8 million from gamblers, compared with $217.9 million a year ago.

Harrah's Unloads Gulfport Casino is republished from