The Gulf Coast, the repository of a number of America’s rivers including the mighty Mississippi, and the one-time home of 19th century Southern aristocrats, wealthy merchants and plantation owners, is today the benefactor of the benign avarice of gaming enthusiasts.
Thousands of people each year come down to the region to test their gaming skills and their luck in 11 major casinos between Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi, as well as three casinos in New Orleans, the largest of which is Harrah’s, smack in the middle of the Crescent City.
According to the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau’s executive director, Richard Forester, “Biloxi has the majority of the casinos, Gulfport has just one. But it’s the major attractor to this area. It’s the big dog.”
Big dog, indeed. Biloxi is like Las Vegas East. Here, there are casino resorts such as the Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, owned by MGM Mirage; the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, still another Vegas product; the Grand Biloxi Casino, Hotel & Spa, owned by Harrah’s Entertainment, as well as the Boomtown Biloxi Casino, among others.
But the best thing for your gaming clients—they’re not posting Las Vegas prices. The 1,086-room IP Hotel & Casino, for example—think Imperial Palace—has rooms for as little as $39. Even at the five-star Beau Rivage—truly a gorgeous resort—you can sometimes find rates as low as $89 on a Sunday. Or, book a mid-week Stay and Play golf package at the Grand Biloxi Casino, Hotel & Spa for as little as $93.50.
According to Kay Miller, downtown services manager for Biloxi, “Gaming is very important for us here. It puts many people to work and provides another venue for our beautiful Gulf Coast, another tourist attraction. Unlike other cities with casinos, we have beautiful beaches, water activities, and wonderful golf courses.”
In fact, that’s another major selling point for the region. Even families can come down and enjoy both the gaming and all the outdoor activities in some beautiful resorts. “We’ve got 26 miles of gorgeous beaches. We’ve got some of the best sportfishing in the world. We’ve also got three of the top 10 golf courses in the country, according to Golf Digest,” says the Mississippi CVB’s Forester. “The outdoor activities—particularly for families—you’ve got the great beaches and then you can take the ferry out to Ship Island and the water’s beautiful and you can snorkel and see the fish. It’s a great family outdoor destination, as well as being a casino gaming destination.”
It’s also a major drive destination and according to Forester, “The last survey they did in 2008, showed that 83 percent of the people who come here, come by car because air traffic is down.”
In New Orleans, Kim Priez, v.p. of tourism for the New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau, says, “We have a number of casinos, but the one that seems to draw the out-of-town visitors is Harrah’s. It’s the only freestanding casino in the city—all the other ones are on riverboats. It’s a gigantic facility that is about a block off the river in the middle of the central business district and just footsteps from the convention center and only about five blocks from the French Quarter. So it’s really right in the middle of everything.”
And while Harrah’s has its own hotel in the city, it’s got a different focus. “They have their own hotel, but they only bring in the high rollers,” Priez explains. “It’s a small hotel and we put a lot of restrictions on them. That said, they use a lot of hotel rooms outside of their hotel because theirs wouldn’t hold everybody they want to bring in. The casino’s been pretty successful here in New Orleans.”
But like the Mississippi casino region, gaming is, of course, just a draw, not the whole leisure vacation experience. “When you look at New Orleans, it’s really kind of a combination experience because you might be coming for gambling, but there’s so much more,” Priez says. “You’re getting your fix for gaming, but you’re in the middle of a city that has the most incredible food, architecture and history.”