Harrah's considers Biloxi a good gamble

Harrah's Grand Biloxi hotel and casino

KAI RYSSDAL: That $3.10 average price Pat mentioned puts us above the record we hit right after Hurricane Katrina. Which is what you call a convenient segue to our next item. . . .

The biggest investment in Mississippi's Gulf Coast since the hurricane was announced today. Casino giant Harrah's says it will spend $700 million for a casino and resort in Biloxi. They'll be teaming up with Gulf Coast native and Margarita-man Jimmy Buffett.

The casino industry's been coming back pretty quickly on the Mississippi Gulf. Far faster than the rest of the economy. Marketplace's Steve Tripoli tells us why.


STEVE TRIPOLI: Three casinos reopened shortly after Katrina. Another five have come back since. A ninth is coming soon, and now a Harrah's project called Margaritaville.

There's a reason the economically-important casino industry has recovered the fastest, says Marianne Hill at Mississippi's Center for Policy Research and Planning.
MARIANNE HILL: There was legislation passed to speed along its rebuilding. Private industry is able to get the funds they need to rebuild and the state has been very amenable to their plans.

Hill says progress has been slower in most everything else.

HILL: What has not been proceeding as rapidly is the rebuilding of the community on the coast. Housing has been going much more slowly and there's also problems related to just getting the community up and running again.

Which isn't to say folks aren't happy the casinos are coming. Larry Barnett of the regional development commission says the initial boost of building jobs for casinos is also creating economic engines for the rest of the coast.

LARRY BARNETT: The other good thing about the casinos is as these casinos come back they provide meeting space where we can then go out and attract conferences, trade shows and conventions.

And Barnett's hoping the Harrah's announcement can stimulate a wider sense of confidence in the Gulf Coast economy. The funny thing about all this is that Mississippi's statewide economy is doing better than it has in a while. The main stimulant? The flood of money for Katrina rebuilding.

I'm Steve Tripoli for Marketplace.

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