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The Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi opened Saturday, a week before the planned opening.
The casino, originally planned to open in September 2005, but Hurricane Katrina destroyed the new resort along with much of the Biloxi area.
“We’re ready, it’s been long enough. This is a fulfillment of a dream,” Hard Rock Biloxi president, Joe Billhimer said.
The Biloxi area relies heavily on gambling profits, and residents depend on the casinos for employment. The Hard Rock will employ 1,500 workers. Approximately 18,000 people on the Mississippi Gulf Coast are currently employed by casinos.
Before Hurricane Katrina, Biloxi had nine casinos, with the opening of the Hard Rock; there are now eight operational casinos.
According to Janice Jones, a spokesperson for the Convention & Visitors Bureau “a large number of the visitors to Biloxi come from the Pensacola, Florida area. In 2004, there were 23 million visits to the Biloxi area, about 11% of those came from the Pensacola/Mobile market,” making it the top visiting market to the area.
Eula Stephens, an 82 year old, visits the area regularly, at least once a week. “Sometimes I go twice a week, I like to go to the Beau Rivage and play the penny slots,” said Stephens.
Good Time Tours general manager Jerri Smith said, “We send about three busloads of visitors to Biloxi each day, about 5,000 Pensacola Bay area residents each month, up from 4,000 monthly a year ago.”
“It’s definitely coming back and increasing,” noted Smith regarding the Biloxi casino industry. “This has definitely been a good year for us.”
According to a 2004 American Traveler Survey, the average age of casino visitors is 57 years old. The Hard Rock, appealing to a younger crowd may change that figure a bit.
Brandon Martin, the Hard Rock’s special events coordinator said, “There’s a younger crowd there, and they need to be catered to as well, and we?re going to get that younger crowd to come back. A lot of them left the area when they could not find work after Katrina, but they’re coming back now and we’re confident that they’re going to love what we are doing.”
The Hard Rock Biloxi boasts 1,445 slot machines, 50 table games, and a poker room. As well, it offers a swimming pool with underwater music, a full service Spa, five restaurants, and of course, the famous rock memorabilia collection, which include things of Madonna Billy Idol, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton and more.
Don Bernstine, the Hard Rock’s manager of acquisitions and artist relations said there are about 600 pieces on display here in Biloxi. “If I’ve done my job right the coolest thing in the world is to see somebody stand in front of a guitar or outfit or something, and to know they saw one of their favorites play or wear an item in concert, that?s the money shot for me, ” he said.
With a 12-story hotel, that has 318 guest rooms and twenty-six suites, along with other amenities; the Hard Rock is hoping to get visitors to stay more than a few hours from a bus ride.