Friday, August 28, 2015
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The Tunica Times • P.O. Box 308/986 Magnolia Street, Tunica, MS 38676

Casino Closure Means $87 Million Loss in Gaming Revenue for May

Tunica, Miss. – The staggered casino closing plan implemented by the Tunica casino industry, in conjunction with Emergency Management officials and the Mississippi Gaming Commission, was completed yesterday afternoon with the scheduled closing of the three casino properties located at Casino Center (Gold Strike Casino Resort, Horseshoe Casino & Hotel, Tunica Roadhouse Casino & Hotel).

The plan, put into effect on Wednesday, April 27, was designed to allow all gaming industry employees and Tunica county visitors to safely leave the unprotected side of the Mississippi River levee system well in advance of the rising water.  The Mississippi Gaming Commission and gaming executives have successfully completed the extensive closure procedures that include the protection of gaming equipment and the removal of all money from each facility.

“With the Mississippi River now expected to crest at 48 feet in Memphis, we have secured all casino properties and assets and are preparing the area the impending flood waters,” said Tunica County Emergency Coordinator Chief Randy Stewart. “As of now, only those essential gaming industry personnel along with emergency management officials will be allowed to cross the Mississippi River levee.”  

Officials from the Mississippi Department of Wildlife and Fish and the Department of Homeland Security have arrived in Tunica County to assist local law enforcement personnel in patrolling all access points to the county’s nine casino properties.  

The closures only affect those properties on the unprotected side of the levee. As previously noted, Veranda and Terrace Hotels at Harrah’s property on the east side of the levee, the Harrah’s Convention Center, the Bellissimo Spa at Harrah’s, Cottonwoods Golf Course, Tunica National Golf & Tennis, and Casino Factory Shoppes are all open and will remain open for business as usual.

At this time, the casinos are projected to be closed for a minimum of three to six weeks, but those timeframes could change considerably based on the river’s rise.

The anticipated floodwaters carry with them the potential to further devastate a Tunica economy that has been hard-hit by the economic downtown. The Tunica market has declined 25% since 2006. The 8% gaming tax generated $93 million for the state and $47 million for Tunica County in 2006.  Last year's collections for the state were $23 million less (at $70 million) and $12 million less (at $35 million) for the county. The area has also seen a loss of 3,400 jobs during that period, equating to over $68 million in annual payroll.

“No one wants to see our area’s chief industry facing such a profound loss in profits, but our casino partners acted quickly and proactively in order to safeguard the safety of their employees and patrons,” said Webster Franklin, CEO of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The closing of our nine casino properties will only exacerbate an already major economic crisis on a state and local level.  It is our hope that the rising water will recede rapidly however, if it gets as high as predicted, our situation becomes even more perilous.  A crest of 48 feet has the real potential to cause structural damage to our casinos and further delay our area’s recovery.”

Franklin noted that should the river levels rise as high as predicted, the recovery effort would be long-lasting and would require a cooperative effort on the part of all key stakeholders.

The casino closings in Tunica will have the following economic impact in the short-term:

The average gross gaming revenue from Tunica’s nine casinos during the month of May over the past three years is approximately $87 million. Closing the casinos for the month would lead to a combined $10 million loss in local ($3.54 million) and state ($7.08 million) gaming tax revenue.
Approximately 4,600 hotel rooms have been closed, equating to $6,210,000 in lost room revenue per month (assuming 75% occupancy at $60 per night).
The closing of all nine casinos affects 38% of the state's gaming square footage or 521,410 square feet.
Approximately 9,300 jobs have been displaced with an approximate $18 million monthly payroll. Most casinos have announced that they will be compensating their employees for a minimum of two weeks during the event, but the situation is different at each property.

Emergency Management crews have conducted extensive ground and aerial surveys of the casino properties in order to establish a photographic baseline to assist in determining when it is safe to reopen.


Breaking News: Crest revised

The Mississippi River is now expected to crest at 48 feet at Memphis on May 10, revised upward three feet yesterday and some 14 feet over flood stage.
Heavy rainfall in the Mississippi-Ohio river valleys in recent weeks has brought near record levels up and down the river. The highest Memphis crest on record was in 1937, at 48.7 feet.

May 2 update:

Seventeen wildlife officers, 10 members of the Homeland Security's Strikeforce 3, and a few scaly predators are patroling the west side of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee around the clock.
Levee Board Emergency Manager Jamie Roberson said alligators had been spotted cruising along the banks of the levee. Despite this ominous development, a few people are still trying to fish from atop the levee or cross over into the Cut-off camps.
"The closing of the levee (Friday) caused chaos," Roberson commented.
Major Leron Weeks of the Tunica County Sheriff's Department said two had been arrested for trespassing over the weekend.
All Tunica casinos are now closed until floodwaters drop back to 40 feet on the Memphis gauge, the point at which the resorts can safely reopen, CVB director Webster Franklin said Monday.
Harrah's two hotels east of the levee, the RV park, golf course and convention center remain open, as do various small hotels in the the casino area.
Harrah's and Gold Strike have announced they will continue to pay their employees.
Some 36 evacuees are being housed at a shelter at the Henderson Rec Center and another 10-15 are getting meals there.


April 29 Update: Cut-off evacuations ending today

"The (Mississippi) river is at 38.4 feet at the Memphis gauge and rising," county emergency management official Alec Clark said at the EOC briefing this morning. A May 10 crest of 45 feet is still projected.
Casino closings are proceeding on schedule, according to Bill Canter of the Tunica Convention & Visitors Bureau. Caesar's Entertainment, which owns and operates Harrah's, Horseshoe and Roadhouse casinos here, has announced they will compensate employees who are unable to work during the temporary closure.
Caesars employees will be able to receive updates about their jobs and the eventual reopening of the casinos at 1-888-488-OPEN and via personal email.
The Terrace and Veranda hotels, the spa, golf course and RV park at Harrah's Tunica are open and will remain open.
Twenty-six people were sheltered at the Henderson Rec Center last night–three from flash floods along Verner and Fish Lake roads earlier this week and 23 who have evacuated from the Cut-off area.
Entergy is completely shutting off power at the Cut-off at noon today and the levee will close today in Tunica, DeSoto and Coahoma counties. The Tunica County Utility District terminated sewer service to the Cut-off and water service will be suspended to day.
No more removal of property from the Cut-off will be allowed after 6 p.m. today (Friday). Access to all property on the wet side of the levee will be restricted to utilities, security personnel and others in an official capacity.
"We're in a flood flight, and people need to know that," said Jamie Roberson, Emergency Management Director for the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board.
Livestock owners have until Wednesday to remove all animals from the land on the levee that the Levee Board leases.
Right now, the Mississippi Gaming Commissioner is not expecting that the Isle of Capri will be forced to close.
On the east side of the county, the Coldwater River has crested but is expected to stay at its current level through May 3. Arkabutla Dam is not releasing any water at this time.
The YMD Levee Board wants the public to know that "the levee is strong, there are no problem areas and that they are monitoring the situation round the clock," Roberson said this morning.
"We still have plenty of free board– that is, levee land that is from the top of the levee down to the water level," he added.
Roberson can be contacted at 662-624-4397.


River rise threatens homes, casinos

Tunica Cut-off residents are scrambling to evacuate, and casinos will begin to close this week in the face of a projected rise on the Mississippi River to the third highest level ever on the Memphis gauge. Waters reached flood stage of 34 feet at Memphis on Wednesday.
The Mississippi and Ohio rivers are already well above flood stage at every National Weather Service station from Cincinnati, Ohio south to New Orleans, with a record high crest of 61 feet forecast at Cairo, IL.
Staggered casino closings began Thursday with Resorts, followed by Bally’s today; The Fitz, Hollywood, Sam’s Town and Harrah’s on Sunday; and Gold Strike, Horseshoe, and Roadhouse on Monday. Depending on the date of the crest, the river will fall over a five to seven day period, when the casinos will likely remain closed. They will likely re-open on a staggered basis, officials say.
“When (the casino area) is no longer safe...we’ve got to be closed before that,” Gaming Commissioner and Tunica Countian Nolen Canon said Tuesday.
“If it goes to 44 (feet), it will be a disaster,” county board attorney Andy Dulaney told supervisors Monday.
Meanwhile, some 200-300 lake homes in four camps on the unprotected side of the levee were already threatened by rising water, with water and sewer service interrupted and access roads to the camps expected to be impassable by the end of this week. Entergy will cut power to the Cut-off camps at noon today, according to County Emergency Coordinator Randy Stewart.
“The sooner people get out, the better,” Dulaney said, although a “suggested, voluntary, mandatory” evacuation order is all that is in place at this time.
“The elderly or sick, they need to leave now for their safety,” Stewart reiterated.
Stewart said the most updated forecasts project a river crest of 45 feet at Memphis on May 10, surpassed only by the historic floods of 1937 (48.70 feet) and 1927 (45.8 feet).
“We’re hoping and praying it doesn’t go higher,” he told supervisors.
The Yazoo-Mississippi Delta Levee Board has ordered the levee’s closure in Coahoma, DeSoto and Tunica counties today (Friday, April 29).
Tunica County supervisors declared a state of emergency effective April 25, giving officials broad authority to take actions “deemed necessary,” and Town of Tunica officials followed suit on Wednesday.
In a statement released Monday, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Vicksburg District assured that levee boards, local officials and they are “closely monitoring weather and river conditions.”
“The Vicksburg District Emergency Operations Center will coordinate with the state emergency management agencies in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi concerning any necessary activities,” Corps officials say.
A local shelter for evacuees opened at 6 p.m. on Tuesday night at the G.W. Henderson Recreation Center, 1165 Abbay Drive, in Tunica. Evacuees are urged to bring personal bedding, towels, toiletries and medications to the shelter.
Various facilities at Tunica’s Paul Battle Arena are also available to evacuees: more than 34 RV spaces with hook-ups; showers at the south end of the arena complex; and stalls for house pets and other domestic animals in the barn area. Pet owners are responsible for food, water and clean-up. Cut-off residents wishing to avail any of these services should come to the arena’s third floor to fill out paperwork. Call Steve Sosebee during regular business hours at 363-3299 or call the EOC after hours.
A Sheriff’s Department command center has been established in the polling place off Fox Island Rd. Evacuees can check at the command center for bulletins. Tunica County has provided parking for vehicles, boats and RV’s at the base of the levee near the command center and along a portion of Mhoon Landing Road, and security is being provided at that location.
Storage for evacuees’ personal belongings is being offered at the old Pillowtex building; contact Lyn Arnold at the Chamber of Commerce, 662-363-2865.
Those needing updated information are asked to call the county Emergency Operations Center at 662-363-4012 daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Emergencies should continue to be reported to 911.
The Tunica Times is posting daily updates on the public portion of its website, and on Facebook and Twitter.


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