09/01/2005 11:00PM

Casinos heavily involved helping Gulf Coast's victims


The damage from Hurricane Katrina will affect the Gulf Coast and ripple around the country for years to come. Some Las Vegas-based gaming companies operate casinos in Louisiana and Mississippi, and there is concern for their employees as well as the facilities they own.

Harrah's Entertainment has nearly 8,000 employees in Biloxi and Gulfport, Miss., and in New Orleans. Harrah's chief executive Gary Loveman guaranteed paychecks for up to 90 days for those employees. Some have expressed interest in moving to Las Vegas and Harrah's is seeking to place them here.

MGM Mirage has about 3,000 employees at its Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi. MGM Mirage chief Terry Lanni has designated Bobby Baldwin to head the assessment team to attend to the needs of those people and the property.

Pinnacle Entertainment, which owns Casino Magic in Biloxi and Boomtown in New Orleans, has 2,000 employees in the region and chief executive Dan Lee was reportedly on his way there to personally assess the recovery efforts.

Mississippi, in particular, has a close relationship to Las Vegas because of the expansive gaming offered in Gulf Coast cities such as Biloxi, Gulfport, Bay St. Louis, and Vicksburg. The brand-new Hard Rock Biloxi was scheduled to open at midnight last Wednesday. The 13th casino in the region was destroyed except for the two-story Hard Rock vertical guitar signage that somehow emerged unscathed.

Mississippi, among the poorest states in the union, turned to gaming to build a tourism industry that has grown to more than $2.7 billion annually. Any economic recovery in the region will include gaming in the forefront.

Already there is talk that the casinos, all of which were floating barges due to state law, will be allowed to be rebuilt as land-based structures. That will enable the casino companies to build stronger, safer buildings that in the future can withstand the dangerous hurricane season.

There are some good, heart-warming stories here in Las Vegas, too many to mention, of visitors from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama who are stuck with no home awaiting their return. Many of the casinos, and even local citizens, are offering assistance and allowing these folks to stay for the short term until they can plan their next course of action.

He knows hardball, but not baseball

A small bit of levity was inadvertently delivered on "Hardball with Chris Matthews" on MSNBC. Matthews was interviewing Texas Gov. Rick Perry about moving New Orleans refugees from the Super-dome into the Houston Astrodome.

Matthews asked, "How did you convince the Astros to give up the Astrodome?"

Gov. Perry politely answered that it "was easy" since the Astros haven't played there since the 2000 season.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.