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Rising from Ruin is an on-going MSNBC.com special report chronicling two coastal Mississippi towns, Bay St. Louis and Waveland, as they rebuild after Hurricane Katrina.

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This project is evolving. Our daily dispatches coverage has been retired. Click here to see what happened in the area between mid October and January 1, 2006.

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BAYOU CADDY, Miss. – Out in the marshlands, beyond the weeds and ramshackle trailers of Lakeshore, inside a gleaming specimen of downsized Vegas chic, they have a view quite different from the malaise that has settled over much of Katrinaville.

“We like to say that the future’s so bright here we gotta wear shades,” says John Ferrucci, chief operating officer and general manager of the Silver Slipper Casino.

If you want proof, consider what Ferrucci and his crew were installing smack in the middle of the Slipper’s main casino floor on a recent morning: a glass display case stocked with a cool $1 million in twenties and hundreds.

070427_casino_rfr_ferrucciJohn Ferrucci

“We decided we want to make somebody a millionaire and we’re going to do that,” says Ferrucci. The money will be given away to the winner of a January drawing geared to encourage regular play at the Slipper’s slot machines, roulette wheels and card tables.

The new 95,000-square-foot casino with three restaurants and 35,000 square feet of gaming space is a poster child for what is by far the brightest spot of the Gulf Coast’s economic recovery from 2005’s devastating hurricane. While the region struggles to rebuild roads, bridges, utility lines and homes, the gambling industry has made it all look easy.

Ten casinos, new or rebuilt, are now operating along the coast, just two fewer than before the storm. That number will climb to more than 20 by the time active projects open their doors, according to Steve Richer, executive of the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau.

'The second great pleasure destination'

Richer, who has held key marketing and promotion jobs in the gaming meccas of Nevada and New Jersey, makes this bold statement about the future of the Gulf Coast: “Las Vegas will always be No. 1, but we feel like this is going to be the second great pleasure destination with gaming because there are so many other great reasons to come.”

Whatever the reasons that visitors come, they are gambling. Despite the lower number of casinos, the Gulf Coast region had its second-best month ever in March, with $118.4 million in gross gaming revenue, just $300,000 shy of the record set in January 2005 before Katrina, according to the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

Commission executive Larry Gregory predicts that, statewide, the industry will set a new record this year, garnering more than $3 billion in gross gaming revenue, $200 million better than its old mark. That number does not include sales of food, drinks or lodging.

Whatever its critics have to say about gambling’s negatives, it is a cash cow for Mississippi’s state and local governments, which rake off a combined 12 percent in taxes from gross gaming revenue. That total should exceed $350 million this year.

Ferrucci predicts that Hancock County will get “in the vicinity of $3 million a year” from the Silver Slipper, which approaches 10 percent of the county’s annual operating budget. In Bay St. Louis, taxes from Hancock County’s only other casino, Hollywood Casino, provided more than half the city’s $7 million operating budget before Katrina. It has reopened and is likewise helping the town’s battered post-Katrina budget.

Expansion plans

But Ferrucci says that’s just the beginning. Construction of the Silver Slipper, from April to November of last year, provided hundreds of construction jobs and the casino hired 450 county residents when it opened its doors. Another 200 came from elsewhere.

A Silver Slipper expansion, which will include a condo-style resort hotel with 380 rooms, 10,000 more square feet of casino space, a convention facility, 600-seat theater and marina with 120 slips, will boost the local economy even more, Ferrucci says. Depending on insurance rates and how the upcoming hurricane season goes, that work could begin next fall.

“We just really see that there’s no limit to what this part of Hancock County could look like a year from now, three years from now,” Ferrucci says, noting that the Silver Slipper is not subject to a lawsuit that has held up projects on neighboring land. That suit, now awaiting a ruling on appeal from the state Supreme Court, challenges zoning changes made by the county to accommodate high-rise resort development in the area.

“We’re the catalyst,” says Ferrucci. Once the lawsuit is resolved, “You’re going to see the planning commission of Hancock County virtually inundated with artists’ renderings and so forth from people who are just waiting for that cloud to be lifted.”

Ferrucci says that he would even welcome additional casinos in the area, although “personally, I think there’s more need for some non-gaming facilities” like hotels and housing.

As attractive as the area is to Silver Slipper executives and the tax revenue is to local government, there are currently no other viable plans to bring more casinos to Hancock County, according to Ferrucci, Richer and others in the know.

A plan to locate a small casino in Old Town Bay St. Louis was quickly squelched by well-organized citizens and officials who pointed out that the city’s zoning requires 25 acres for a casino. And ambitious talk of another casino development near the new Highway 90 bridge by a Florida-based firm also has gone nowhere, according to city officials.

Read previous stories on the casinos industry:

'The Donald' joins casino fray

Casino's uncertain future key for Bay St. Louis

Farewell to one-armed bandits

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4 COMMENTS

IS EVERYONE AWARE THE GOV. HAD 814 MILLION DONATED TO US FOR KATRINA AND NEVER PURSUED IT. THIS FROM OTHER COUNTRIES AND DONORS.
WE ARE BEING SUBJECTED TO AN ADMINISTRATIION OF CRIMINALS....NO CONSCIENCE, NO SELF-ESTEEM, NO CONCERN FOR OUR CITIZENS.

You are pathetic, if you take monies from foreign governments then you deserve to be treated like the begger that you are.

Similarly, the majority of millions reserved for 9-11 victim's families were never received. Everyone has forgotten that a popular, now presidential candidate gave it all to attorneys to "manage", when a simple accountant and a few insurance reps would have worked fine. Who?

Rudolph Guiliani

Don't gamble on the Mississippi Gulf Coast because tha casinos are trying to make their money back. I just recently returned from the Coast. Most casinos are charging for everything, internet (14.00 a day), Food, Drinks and ect. I payed 35.00 for a hamburger and chicken fingers at Beau Rivage. I paid 27.00 for a sandwich and soup at IP.

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