Photo courtesy Mississippi Gulf Coast CVB
Mississippi’s Gulf Coast
The white sands and emerald waters of the Gulf Coast make Gulfport and Biloxi attractive to gaming lovers who also enjoy beach scenery. But the seaside location also left those nearby towns vulnerable to the devastating blows of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged the area in 2005.
Although the hurricane did massive damage to the area’s gaming and tourism properties, locals were quick to rebuild.
“We snapped back quite quickly,” said Beth Carriere, executive director of the Harrison County Tourism Commission. “The product we have is way improved over what we had before in terms of infrastructure. Most of the casino resorts built back better than they were, and we have a couple of new ones.”
Among new casinos in the area are Silver Slipper Casino in Bay St. Louis and Margaritaville, a new gaming concept based on Jimmy Buffet’s popular tropical lifestyle brand that will open in May. The additions bring the total number of casinos in the Gulf Coast area to 12, among them the Grand Casino, the Beau Rivage, the Hard Rock Casino, Treasure Bay, the Hollywood Casino and the IP Casino.
The area is building up its cultural and museum offerings as well.
“In March, we’re going to open NASA’s Infinity Science Center on the west end of the coast,” Carriere said. “It’s the new official visitors center for NASA and the space center we have there. But more importantly, it’s a new science museum. It’s interactive, huge and right on the interstate. It’s a $34 million project, with state-of-the-art everything.”
Work is also finishing on the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art, which sustained heavy damage during the hurricane. The museum is currently open, with renovations still underway in certain sections.
Although it has fewer casinos than Tunica or the Gulf Coast, Vicksburg’s five gaming properties add a significant element to the area’s tourism scene. The town saw flooding last summer as well, but its impact was limited.
“There was flooding here in Vicksburg in May of 2011, but it really only affected one of our casinos,” said Bill Seratt, executive director of the Vicksburg Convention and Visitors Bureau. “One was closed for renovation anyway, but the majority were able to stay open during the high water, so we really haven’t been impacted by Mother Nature.”
Currently, visitors will find gaming in Vicksburg at the Ameristar Casino Hotel, the Horizon Casino Hotel, the Isle of Capri Casino, the Riverwalk Casino and the Rainbow Hotel Casino.
In addition to the gaming opportunities, many groups that travel to Vicksburg also visit Vicksburg National Military Park, which has more monuments than any other military park in the nation.
“The monuments there were commissioned in the early part of the last century and were done by some of the leading artists of the early 1900s,” Seratt said. “It’s an absolutely gorgeous art park, with a little over 1,300 monuments.”
Groups can also tour a number of antebellum homes in the city, as well as the Old Courthouse Museum, a historical and architectural landmark.