Katrina Delivers Major Blow to Casinos

Hurricane_katrina_1(alternate header: “Casinos Fold to Hurricane Katrina,” which begs the questions: what’s worse, poker metaphors or hurricane metaphors?)

The devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina is astonishing. I’ve heard estimates of up to 80 people in one Mississippi county alone killed, mostly from massive tsunami-like storm surges. In New Orleans, floodwaters poured into the city over night through levees compromised by torrential rains and winds, and bodies have been seen floating amongst the debris. Throughout the day and night helicopters and boats have been rescuing people from their rooftops as floodwaters continue to rise. 5 million people across Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama are now left without power and tens of thousands are homeless. All across Georgia, quick-forming tornadoes tore apart homes and businesses as the storm made its way northeast.

And here’s one startling account that sheds light on the chaos of the storm:

“Thirty-five people swam out of their emergency operations center with life jackets on,” Harrison County emergency medical services director Christopher Cirillo said.

“We haven’t heard from them.”

Depressing yes, and what does this have to do with poker you ask?

Well, we have to admit that we’d feel like insensitive degenerates if we didn’t start with the obvious, that considering the human toll from Katrina, her effect on the gaming industry seems trivial, and that now’s a good time to consider donating some of your online poker proceeds to the charities helping those in need.

But at the same time, it must be said that so much of the welfare of the communities hit the hardest by Katrina, mainly Biloxi and Gulfport, is dependent on casinos and tourism, and the losses incurred there are becoming a big part of this story.

So what has happened? To start, the Grand Casino Biloxi, home to the next WSOP circuit event, has been washed across U.S. 90 to the west. Yes, in fact most of the casinos along the Gulf in Biloxi and Gulfport have been severely damaged by massive 20 foot storm surges that battered the coastline. Harrah’s has been affected most, with 9 casinos in the storm’s path, including Grand Casino Gulfport, Grand Casino Biloxi and Harrah’s New Orleans. With all casinos closed along the coast, Reuters has reported that the state of Mississippi is losing half a million dollars in tax revenue each day, and analysts anticipate Harrah’s to lose $1.8 million to $2.5 million in revenues each day.

On a more upbeat note, the mass exodus of residents from southeast Louisiana had casinos in Shreveport doing their part, giving out hot food, water and blankets to evacuees who headed north to escape the storm.


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