Greg Alexander

Gaming on the Gulf

Baltimore Sun, March 23, 2008

In 2005, we all witnessed the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina and the slow response by the federal government, which just added to the anguish for the people of the Gulf regions of Louisiana and Mississippi. However, one positive outcome of Katrina did shine through – the stalwart determination of the people there to proclaim that the region would bounce back. And while some viewed parts of the rebuilding effort a gamble, there is one sure bet in these two states – warm hospitality, wonderful local cuisine and endless fun, including the many gaming institutions.

Put Your Money on Mississippi

When people think of gambling, Las Vegas and Atlantic City may immediately spring to mind, but there is a lot of high-stakes gaming in Mississippi. In fact, there are 11 casinos in the Biloxi-Gulfport region, called “The Playground of the South,” with several more on the way. Due to the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina, many of these casino resorts have been completely renovated.

The majority of the casinos are in Biloxi, a seaside town on the Mississippi Sound, which flows into the Gulf of Mexico. Most of the casino resorts are oceanfront and lie on Highway 90 (Beach Boulevard), allowing for a vacation that combines the beach with a little blackjack. Speaking of the beaches, 26 miles of sugar-white sand and a chain of barrier islands that deliver gentle, calm waves make for great family fun. The largest of the casino resorts is the upscale IP Hotel & Casino, which boasts over 1,000 newly refurnished rooms and suites, almost 2,000 slots and video poker games, 60-plus table games and a world-class spa. The IP Hotel & Casino also offers guests Carnaval de Brasil, a Brazilian restaurant and thirty-two, a four-diamond recognized restaurant that offers stunning views of the Mississippi Sound. The Isle of Capri Casino Resort, a Caribbean-themed resort, has over 700 rooms and suites, a spa, multi-level infinity pool, over 1,000 video poker and slots and 27 table games. Other casino resorts in Biloxi include Beau Rivage; Grand Biloxi Casino Hotel & Spa, a Harrah’s-owned property with over 500 hotel rooms; and Treasure Bay Casino.

In nearby Gulfport, The Island View Casino Resort is investing $200 million in the future of Gulfport and has an 83,000-square-foot casino, over 500 rooms, a golf course and Emeril’s Gulf Coast Fish House, owned by famed celebrity chef, Emeril.

Besides gaming, the Mississippi Gulf Coast region also offers great restaurants (Biloxi is nicknamed “The Seafood Capital of the World”) and historical sites such as Beauvior, the last home of Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy. If you’re looking for a fun family trip on the water, check out the Biloxi Shrimping Trip, which allows guests to witness a shrimping expedition while learning about sea life in the region.

Bettin’ on the Bayou

While New Orleans may garner most of the attention in the great state of Louisiana, there’s fun to be had outside of New Orleans, and when gaming was legalized in Louisiana in 1993, the fun level was elevated.

In the state capital of Baton Rouge, spicy Cajun fare combined with plantation homes, upscale shopping and riverboat casinos guarantee fun. The downtown area has been revitalized and some must-sees include the views from the observation deck of the 34-story State Capitol and the Old Governor’s Mansion. At night, be daring and try something new to eat – ever had fried alligator? – and rock to the soothing sounds found in the city’s many blues clubs. Speaking of alligator, you can take an alligator Bayou tour just outside of Baton Rouge or see animals in a more controlled environment at the Baton Rouge Zoo.

For gaming, Baton Rouge has two options. The Belle of Baton Rouge is the city’s oldest casino and sits on the Mississippi River. It offers the only live poker room in the area and slots range from penny slots to $100 slots. Located across the street from the State Capitol on the River is Hollywood Casino, which includes over 1,000 slots and Capitol Bistro, one of Baton Rouge’s best steakhouses.

Inland Louisiana on the Red River is Shreveport-Bossier City, offering visitors small town charm combined with big city fun. The area is home to countless music clubs and a rich blues history. In fact, Elvis Pressley got his start at the Municipal Auditorium in town. The Red River divides the twin towns of Shreveport and Bossier City, and five riverboat casinos dot the waterfront. Two of the casinos are in Shreveport; three in Bossier City. In Shreveport, Sam’s Town Casino, operated by Boyd Gaming of Las Vegas, features a 23-story hotel and 28,000 square feet of casino space; while Eldorado Resort Casino has a three-deck riverboat casino and a 400-plus-suite hotel. In Bossier City, the western-themed Boomtown Casino and Hotel boasts a 30,000-square-foot casino and a garden-suite hotel. Other casinos in Bossier City include the Harrah’s-owned Horseshoe Casino and Hotel and Diamond Jacks Casino and Resort, which opened in 1994.

Also slightly inland Louisiana is Lake Charles, home to a handful of casinos including the Isle of Capri Casino & Hotel on Lake Charles and the luxurious L’auberge du Lac Casino Resort, a 26-story casino resort with over 750 elegant suites and villas, golf course, lazy river and swim-up bar. The 30,000-square-foot casino also has a trendy bar – globar – right in the middle of the action, perfect for people watching.

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