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Mississippi Gaming Commission Orders
12 Biloxi Casinos to Close at Noon Tuesday;

No Hurricane Stronger than a Category 2 Has Hit the
Mississippi Coast Since Gambling was Legalized
.

By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

BILOXI - September 14, 2004 - The thousands of people who depend upon the gambling industry for their livelihood and the governments that rely on casino tax revenue will have to wait and see whether Hurricane Ivan is the monster storm they've dreaded.

A decision is expected this morning on whether to temporarily close the casinos. The path of the powerful hurricane remained unpredictable Monday.

"This storm kind of has a mind of its own," said Dave Kingman, the emergency planner for the Mississippi Gaming Commission who recommends when the state agency should close casinos.

Commission Chairman Leonard "Len" Blackwell II said the agency's staff had scheduled meetings at 8 a.m. today with civil defense officials and 10 a.m. with casino general managers.

"This is probably one of the hardest judgment calls we have to make for obvious reasons," Blackwell said. "You don't want to shut down an industry that's producing as much revenue as we now know it's producing for state and local governments. On the other hand, if I err, I certainly want it to be on the side of caution and safety."

Casinos would take a loss during the downtime and so would public coffers. Coast gambling barges generate at least $385,747 a day in taxes.

But Hurricane Ivan could do far more damage than temporarily disrupt business.
"It certainly has all the criteria to be the one that would bring devastation," said Bernie Burkholder, president and chief executive officer of Treasure Bay Gaming & Resorts Inc.

No hurricane stronger than a Category 2 has hit the Mississippi Coast since gambling was legalized. Millions of dollars in taxes and thousands of casino jobs are at risk because gambling barges are too big to be moved to a safer location. Casino officials, legislators, environmentalists and representatives of regulatory agencies have been meeting to discuss ways to better protect the barges without jeopardizing state income from tidelands leases or violating state law.

"If Ivan were to strike as a Category 4 or 5 anywhere from Pascagoula on west, I think the whole purpose of the task force is going to be slap-in-your-face realized," Burkholder said.

Some casinos Monday had already begun early "drops," collecting cash from slot machines and table games and filing the required reports under the direction of gaming commissioners, Blackwell said.

Casino employees tried to schedule time to ready their homes for the storm.
Lori Prevost, a cage cashier at the Isle of Capri, was preparing for her first hurricane Monday as she bought bottled water.

"At least my boss let me off to get ready in case the hurricane hits here," said Prevost, who has been on the job for two months.

Generally, the commission issues voluntary evacuation advisories for casinos 24 to 36 hours before a storm's impact and mandates their closure 12 to 18 hours before impact.

But every scenario is different.

"It's not a set time," Kingman said. "It all depends on the tropical force winds. It's not so much landfall as it is the effect of the tropical force winds and when they're going to hit. We do a timeline developed on the arrival of those winds. Once those winds start in, you get increased wave action and the storm surge takes effect. You want to have everything done before winds hit that force."

Closing down a casino is a time-consuming process. Employees begin securing money and gambling chips along with other tasks before a mandatory closure.
"Right now, we're in the monitoring phase of the operation," Kingman said on Monday. "We are in touch with civil defense agencies. Linda Rouse with Harrison County Civil Defense is our priority point for information. We attend the meetings that she calls."

Kingman is a former planner with the U.S. Air Force, who dealt with emergency management and contingency plans. He and Rich Randall, another special agent assigned to the Coast, have received extensive training in hurricane preparedness.

-----To see more of The Sun Herald, or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.sunherald.com 

(c) 2004, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News. For information on republishing this content, contact us at (800) 661-2511 (U.S.), (213) 237-4914 (worldwide), fax (213) 237-6515, or e-mail reprints@krtinfo.com. DIS, COX, L, 


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