Casinos to close this evening; hotel guests OK for tonight

The Mississippi Gaming Commission has ordered that Coast casinos close to the public Sunday at 2 a.m., and that casino personnel have all closing procedures — accounting, security and safety measures – completed by noon Sunday.

Gaming Commission director Larry Gregory told the newspaper at 6:15 p.m. that he had directed his staff to notify Coast casinos to plan to begin their closing procedures at 2 a.m. Said Gregory: “I want all patrons off the casino floors. Only essential personnel will be allowed after that point.”

Biloxi has nine casino resorts, with a tenth scheduled to open in September, and Mayor A.J. Holloway said that he hoped that the thousands of guests at those hotels would consider waiting until daybreak Sunday morning if they planned to evacuate since the announcement of the 2 a.m. casino closures.

“Our guests would have sufficient time to evacuate then, instead of trying to drive on unfamiliar roads tonight,” Holloway said Saturday evening. “Plus, we’re hoping that the majority – if not all – of the marine vessels moving through the Bay will have moved by Sunday at 6 at the latest.”

Frankie Duggan of the city’s Port Division began notifying boat owners to evacuate public marinas and harbors, and seek safer anchorage up river. A host of so-called “super slabs” were still moored at the Lighthouse Pier on Back Bay, but bridge tenders said many local shrimpers were familiar with Bay waters and may be planning to move later this evening.

Duggan said the city has more than 530 vessels in it three public marinas and harbors will have to seek safe anchorage in nearby rivers. The bulk of the vessels – about 300 – are moored at Point Cadet Marina, Duggan said, but not all require Bay of Biloxi bridges to open their spans in order for the vessels to safely pass.

The Popp’s Ferry Bridge in west Biloxi at noon today implemented its pre-storm schedule, where its 35-foot-high span opens at the top and bottom of every hour to allow vessels to pass. At 9:35 tonight, more than 144 vessels have passed through the open spans in the 18 openings since noon. Each opening requires 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the number of vessels lining the channel in the Bay of Biloxi.

Meantime, Biloxi Public Works Director Richard Sullivan has positioned heavy equipment at locations through the city in order to speed any necessary post-storm clean-up efforts. Sullivan’s Public Works crews were expected to be contacting casino representatives for status reports on their closing procedures after daybreak Sunday.

Mayor Holloway planned to meet with department directors Sunday at noon to access the storm’s path and weather forecasts, and adjust the city’s plans as necessary.

For more storm info, visit the Storm & Flood Preparedness section of the city web site at