Located an hour east of New Orleans and an hour west of Mobile is the gambling town of Biloxi, Mississippi. The influences of both Louisiana and Alabama are felt throughout this sleepy beach community, parked on the sand of the Gulf of Mexico. Biloxi, like its neighbor, Gulfport, is a mix of southern sunshine and Caribbean attitude.
On a ten mile stretch of Route 90, the main thoroughfare through Biloxi and Gulfport, aptly named Beach Boulevard, sit nine large casino and hotel resorts (select casino name for individual review):
Beau Rivage Resort & Casino – French for “beautiful shore,” famed Las Vegas developer Steve Wynn has made the Beau Rivage into Biloxi’s premier, award-winning casino.
Boomtown Casino – Themed after a 19th century mining and ranching settlement, Boomtown prides itself on being the “local’s casino” of Biloxi.
Grand Casino – The Biloxi member of the Caesars Entertainment empire, the Grand is the gaming mega-giant’s spacious and versatile property with a beach front location.
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Located in the heart of town, the Hard Rock boasts a touch of Hollywood glamour and hosts some of the best entertainment acts in town.
IP Casino Resort & Spa – A short drive off Beach Boulevard, the monolithic tower of IP soars over its neighbors and gives guests all the luxury of a high-end resort.
Island View Casino Resort – The only casino located in Gulfport, Island View seems to thrive on the more affluent surroundings and short drive from Biloxi.
Isle Casino Hotel – On the western edge of town, Isle sits directly upon the beach and gives visitors great access to both the Gulf and Back Bay.
Margaritaville Casino and Restaurant –The Jimmy Buffett empire throws its hat into the Biloxi casino market.
Palace Casino Resort – Seated on the Back Bay of Biloxi, the Palace is a stylish gambling venue, and the only non-smoking casino on the Gulf Coast.
Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel – The smallest casino in Biloxi, Treasure Bay is able to offer friendly staff and some of the most reasonable rates in town.
Although the casinos of Biloxi and Gulfport do not, for the most part, neighbor one another, most of them are situated directly upon Route 90. Only the IP and Boomtown are a short distance from Beach Boulevard.
The Beau Rivage and Hard Rock sit directly next to each other and comprise the center of gambling action in Biloxi. They are the only two casinos which people regularly walk between. Island View is the only casino in Gulfport, a short, 15 minute drive from Biloxi. The Grand, Isle, and Palace are all located at the eastern end of Biloxi.
In 2005 the entire face of the Gulf Coast was irreversibly marked by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Although New Orleans received most of the media attention during the storm’s aftermath, Biloxi and Gulfport still bear the devastating scars prominently. There are countless abandoned buildings, driveways that lead to nothing, and empty concrete slabs where buildings once sat.
Many casinos in Biloxi were severely damaged by Hurricane Katrina. At the time, Mississippi state law prohibited land-based gaming and the casinos were housed on floating barges. The high winds and water surges of Katrina pushed many of them hundreds of feet inland and smash several to pieces. In October of 2005, Mississippi revised the laws to allow onshore gambling,facilitate reconstruction, and save an industry vital to its economy.
One cannot visit Biloxi and Gulfport without being aware of the proximity of Louisiana and Alabama. Surprisingly, its home state of Mississippi seems to have less cultural influence upon Biloxi than these neighborings. The most popular sports team is the New Orleans Saints; the LSU Tigers and Alabama Crimson Tide seem better represented than either of Mississippi’s SEC members. The residents of the area are a complete mix of people drawn from the entire length of The United States’ Gulf of Mexico shoreline, from Texas to Florida.
Kessler Air Force Base is located in Biloxi and adds a military presence of both active and retired personnel. Kessler is home to one of the Air Force’s larger medical units as well as its large fleet of planes, known as “hurricane hunters,” that are used to monitor meteorological conditions.
Biloxi and Gulfport are very much beach communities. Along with great southern barbeque, one finds an abundance of shrimp, crawfish, and crab in the local cuisine. The pace of life is easy going and relaxed, as if on permanent vacation. Visitors that tire of the casinos can spend a day in the sunshine, rent a jet ski, or go for a peaceful bike ride along the beach.
Seated upon the sands of Biloxi and looking out upon the horizon that stretches over the Gulf of Mexico, it is not hard to imagine why Jefferson Davis chose this location for his retirement. The city operates on island rhythms, strummed by Jimmy Buffett, and gives visitors a nice place to escape for a little while. It is a resilient community, married to the water, where the trees, once broken by Katrina, have been carved into beautiful dolphins and birds.