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Best of Rudi Schiffer

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Heard It On The River

28 February 2006


Watching on television or reading news accounts of what is going on in NEW ORLEANS and up the Gulf Coast in GULFPORT and BILOXI and adjacent areas, you get a too-long arm's length view of the aftermath of HURRICANE KATRINA. So when we were invited to the re-opening of HARRAH'S in New Orleans, we jumped at the opportunity so we could get a first-hand look at the devastation not only to houses and buildings but also to the psyche of the survivors who literally have lost everything.

In a word, it is GRIM.

It is easy to forget about this physical, emotional and property disaster, hey, that happened six months ago, they must have cleaned it up and started the reconstruction. Right? Wrongo!

In New Orleans it is a tale of two cities. The fabled FRENCH QUARTER was functioning just fine, at least on the surface, with MARDI GRAS parades and revelers snarling up traffic as usual and all seemed fairly normal in the downtown business district. So we traveled east and toured the silent and deserted Ninth Ward. We didn't see a soul. Just miles and miles silent homes and abandoned vehicles and piles of wreckage and flotsam. It renders one speechless. It makes you want to cry. It makes you wonder when is government going to get serious about this and rebuild here.

Then I thought of the MEMPHIS area and the spate of earthquake predictions and wondered…. is this what will happen to us? I hope not because of what I have witnessed down south. We all have learned we can't depend on the power of our governments to bail us out. You had better be prepared on your own to take care of your own.

On the bright side, the re-opening of the 115,000 square foot Harrah's was a real success for the casino and for the city, which needed some spirit uplifting. The timing was great as the opening ushered in Mardi Gras and even with crowds down significantly, there were enough visitors and locals to go around that still wanted to have fun. The casino floor was jammed only moments after CENTRAL DIVISION PRESIDENT ANTHONY SANFILIPPO cut the ribbon and moved out the way of a raucous and colorful samba band and scantily clad wiggly dancers who sashayed out the door and down the steps. Hey, this is New Orleans after all.

Even happier were the 1,500 Team Members who were back at work.

Driving up the Coast after we were partied out, we saw a different kind of devastation in Gulfport and Biloxi. Whereas the homes and New Orleans were still standing for the most part, here they were blown away by an A Bomb name of Katrina. I looked for the Grand Casino in Gulfport on highway 90, nothing except a few twisted girders. Couldn't even locate where some other casinos might have been. Remember all those beautiful antebellum homes along the beach? Gone. A whole swath of land from the beach inland was cleared of homes. The wonderful gnarly old southern oak trees still stood for the most part. Mute witnesses that nature can build better than man. By some quirk, Beauvoir, Jefferson Davis's historic home after the Civil War was still standing. Barely. Supported by propped up beams, it could be restored to its former glory.

The beached Treasure Bay boat looked ungainly out of water lying on the beach like a well, beached whale. But BERNIE BURKHOLDER is a tough guy and survivor in this business as well as CEO of the company and he will soon demolish his pirate ship and now has crews converting the ship's hotel into a temporary casino. Harrah's' will be doing the same with its Grand property as the rush is on to get back in business following the astounding revenues generated by IMPERIAL PALACE, ISLE of CAPRI and the PALACE who took about four months to get the slots up and running. Look for the grandeur of the BEAU RIVAGE to shine again later this year.

As you have heard, the trio made about $62 million during the past January, some $11 million more than the amount reported by the city. The gross gambling revenue earned the three casinos was about 69 percent of what NINE casinos made last Jan. when they reported revenues of about $90 million. We stayed at IP, the name Imperial Palace likes to call itself now, and were hard put to find a seat to play blackjack or at slots. The place was jammed and when I left at 2 a.m. it was still full. Rooms were almost impossible to get and are staying full virtually all the time. JON LUCAS, GM and his VP of Marketing, BRAD RHINES, were all smiles. IP was the first to open and reaped the windfall but it is being used to improve the casino to get ready when the competition heats up later this year. One new terrific improvement at IP is "32," the new restaurant on the top floor with a view. Great lounge with live music and a glittering, eye-catching wine room that is Lucas' pride. The cuisine is special and the service on top, literally and figuratively. The rolling cigar humidor isn't bad either.

We also visited the new home office of JACKPOT and got a good taste of the irrepressible spirit of MICHAEL SUNDERMAN, our publisher. Katrina hit the southern edition of Jackpot hard and wiped it out, for the time being. Michael and his talented execs, Mary Sunderman and Lori Beth Susman, are already planning for the future in the new and bigger office that will soon be filled with staffers taking on the responsibilities of new publications that will be acquired and getting the Coast's favorite and best gaming paper, Jackpot, back up and running. It is a just a matter of time, a short time.

Business is up in busy TUNICA as wel, as hints of spring and tax time make themselves known. GOLDSTRIKE has opened another fabulous production show, TAGANAI, which will have a long run through June 19. You remember BALAGAN. Well this show is the latest artistic creation offshoot of the Russian circus and features a cast of thirty multi-talented performers. But is completely different from Balagan according to MISHA MATORIN, the show's creator and producer. He says audiences will find this show unlike anything they have ever seen. Tickets are only $17.95 at 888.24K-PLAY.

March is a good time for an "old fashioned Irish Brawl" and it will take place again on March 11 at FITZGERALDS as it celebrates and extended ST. PATRICK'S DAY. The boxing matches staged by PRIZE FIGHT BOXING have proved popular sellouts so buy in advance for only $20 at the casino's gift shop. On the 17th, the casino will be showing off its green with a $15,000 cash giveaway and more. On Saturday morning, the GOODTIMES RADIO SHOW will continue the celebration from the stage with a live broadcast from 8:30 to 11. I'll be there.

Also on March 17, the off-Broadway hit TONY n' TINA'S WEDDING will start a three show run and the $50 ticket includes dinner. There is a catch: you might find yourself in the cast because the wedding party cast is picked from the audience. This hilarious improvisation has become one of the longest running off-Broadway productions in history. Ticket can be had by calling TicketMaster or Grand Box Office at 800-946-4946, ext. 3060.

JOHN OSBORN, VP and GM of HOLLYWOOD CASINO, has been appointed to the Tunica County Tourism Commission. It was a natural choice. He has been actively promoting gaming and tourism since he got here in 1994.

I heard that there is a need for dealers at some Tunica casinos but you need training. Try CASINO COLLEGE, which is doing just that from its new building at 3444 CASINO WAY. Check it out at www.casinocollege.net

Laissez le bon temps roulez.
Rudi Schiffer

Rudi Schiffer is a long time columnist and contributing writer for Jackpot Magazine, the South’s leading gaming publication, and for casinocitytimes.com, the world’s leading casino industry internet news distributor. He is also owner and co-host of the 20-year-old Goodtimes Radio Show, now simulcast on Fridays from 3-6 PM Central Time from Country Classic 1180 AM, Memphis networked with KMIS 1050 AM, and 103.9 KGLU FM from Kennet, MO covering parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. His radio show is also archived at audiovegas.com. A Boston University Journalism graduate, he resides in Memphis, TN. Known as the "Voice of Tunica" for his support the gaming jurisdiction for two decades, he was also recently named to Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine’s 3rd annual “The Power Players, Who’s Who” of Memphis.He is also a contributing writer for Southern Gaming & Entertainment and Mississippi Gaming.

Rudi Schiffer Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com
Rudi Schiffer
Rudi Schiffer is a long time columnist and contributing writer for Jackpot Magazine, the South’s leading gaming publication, and for casinocitytimes.com, the world’s leading casino industry internet news distributor. He is also owner and co-host of the 20-year-old Goodtimes Radio Show, now simulcast on Fridays from 3-6 PM Central Time from Country Classic 1180 AM, Memphis networked with KMIS 1050 AM, and 103.9 KGLU FM from Kennet, MO covering parts of Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee and Mississippi. His radio show is also archived at audiovegas.com. A Boston University Journalism graduate, he resides in Memphis, TN. Known as the "Voice of Tunica" for his support the gaming jurisdiction for two decades, he was also recently named to Memphis Business Quarterly Magazine’s 3rd annual “The Power Players, Who’s Who” of Memphis.He is also a contributing writer for Southern Gaming & Entertainment and Mississippi Gaming.

Rudi Schiffer Websites:

www.AudioVegas.com