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Howard Stutz

Tunica casinos to reopen after flooding

18 May 2011

Receding Mississippi River floodwaters are allowing casinos in Tunica, Miss., to get back to business.

MGM Resorts International said Tuesday it would reopen the Gold Strike at 10 a.m. Wednesday.

Caesars Entertainment plans to reopen two of its three casinos in Tunica by Friday. The company is hopeful Harrah's Tunica, its largest casino in the market, would reopen by Memorial Day weekend.

Boyd Gaming Corp. is targeting May 27 for the reopening of Sam's Town Tunica.

Mary Cracchiolo Spain, who oversees public relations for the Gold Strike and the company's Beau Rivage in Biloxi, Miss., said state-of-the-art aqua barriers kept floodwaters from the Gold Strike.

"We're on Cloud 9 over here," Spain said. "There was no water damage and we got the green light to reopen."

Caesars spokesman Gary Thompson said the two casinos -- the Horseshoe and Tunica Roadhouse -- were reopening sooner than expected.

Boyd Gaming spokesman David Strow said the company is still waiting for better access to Sam's Town before determining a definitive reopening date.

Gaming halted earlier this month in Tunica, a northern Mississippi community about an hour south of Memphis, Tenn., when the Mississippi River reached near-record flood levels.

All 10 casinos in Tunica closed for the first time since gaming began there in 1994, idling about 9,600 employees, closing 4,600 hotel rooms and keeping away more than 20,000 average daily visitors.

Last week, the Tunica Convention and Visitors Authority estimated the casino closings could mean a loss of about $87 million in gaming revenues and could cost the state about $7 million in gaming taxes.

Convention Authority CEO Webster Franklin said in Memphis last week the biggest concerns were access roads submerged by river water that were unsafe for travel.

The flooding was the worst disaster to strike the Mississippi gaming market since 2005, when Hurricane Katrina decimated casinos in Biloxi, Gulfport and Bay St. Louis.

"This was Tunica's Katrina," said Spain, who experienced the Beau Rivage's year-long closure after Katrina.

Gaming markets along the Mississippi River, which include Vicksburg, Natchez and Greenville, have a combined $321.1 million in gaming revenues through March.

Rising water is expected to close casinos in Vicksburg this week, though the Ameristar Vicksburg was operating Tuesday and may remain open even after the river there crests Thursday. Las Vegas-based Ameristar took several steps to protect the riverboat casino.

"We're still open and, hopefully, we're not going to close," said company spokeswoman Roxann Kinkade.

The American Gaming Association said Friday that Tunica casino employees continue to get full pay, including estimated tips and benefits during the closure. Casino company officials have said business interruption insurance would cover any losses.

Casino companies offered various levels of direct assistance to relief efforts in Tunica.

Caesars donated more than 15 pallets of perishable food to a shelter in Tunica, while the Gold Strike set up the "Levee Cafe" serving free food.

Penn National Gaming's Hollywood Casino in Tunica provided temporary housing and food to Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks agents while they secured the area.
Tunica casinos to reopen after flooding is republished from