Gulfport Casino Workers Who Lost Jobs After Hurricane Katrina Schedule Reunion

Posted on: July 12, 2017, 06:00h. 

Last updated on: July 12, 2017, 05:19h.

Former casino workers who lost more than just their homes and communities during Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are planning a reunion later this month.

Gulfport casino workers reunion
Nearly 12 years after Hurricane Katrina wiped out their place of employment, Gulfport casino workers are returning to southern Mississippi. (Image: Paul Richards/Getty Images)

The gathering set for July 26 at the Biloxi Community Center will reunite former colleagues and friends that were dispersed from their jobs after the Grand Casino Gulfport was forced to close in the wake of the deadly category 5 storm.

Yvette Vassey, who worked at the Grand Casino from its opening in 1993 until its final day in 2005, is organizing the event. She tells the Sun Herald that nearly 180 former employees are planning to attend. Tickets to the homecoming cost $35, which covers food and entertainment.

Vassey says the workers scattered post-Katrina, and some attendees are traveling from Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Florida, and Arizona.

“It was a great place to work,” Vassey told the local newspaper. “We loved each other, it’s a family.”

Located on the Gulf of Mexico, Katrina devastated the Gulfport region. A barge that housed a child daycare center broke free during the storm and ripped the Grand Casino floor apart. Caesars, which owned the property in 2005, decided to shutter the resort due to the damage.

Emotional Return

Hurricane Katrina took the lives of 1,836, and cost an estimated $108 billion in damage (2005 dollars). While Louisiana was hardest hit, the state accounting for 1,577 of the deaths, Mississippi was next with 238 fatalities.

For the hundreds of casino workers at the Grand, they lost not only friends and their communities, but also their livelihoods when the hotel and resort closed its doors.

Today, the Grand is no more. Caesars sold the resort to its neighboring competitor across the street, the Copa Casino Gulfport. The linked properties are now known as the Island View Casino.

Together, the resort has 970 guestrooms, and the Copa Casino’s 83,000-square-foot gaming floor is open. A “Beach Casino” inside the former Grand is currently under construction.

Mississippi’s Murky Gaming Law

While Native American groups can build land-based gambling facilities on their sovereign grounds, commercial gambling in Mississippi is restricted to riverboats. Under the state law, casinos must touch the Gulf of Mexico or Mississippi River, or be on land directly adjacent to the bodies of water.

Much of Mississippi’s southern coast, as well as the Mississippi River’s banks, drastically changed after Hurricane Katrina. Numerous operators have been petitioning the state to relax its riverboat laws in favor of safer, more stable ground.

So far, the state legislature and the Mississippi Gaming Commission hasn’t budged.

In March, the casino regulator rejected a proposed gaming site with little explanation, but the thinking is that it was too far inland. The land in question touches a canal that flows to the Bay of St. Louis, and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes is one lawmaker who celebrated the rejection, as he believes allowing casinos to be built on arteries that connect to the Mississippi or Gulf would change the state’s gaming market.

“It would effectively open the floodgates to an indiscriminate proliferation of gaming,” Hewes said in March.