Gala Opening for the New Grand Biloxi Casino Hotel and Spa

by Keith Burton - GCN   filed 8/17/06

Elegant and spacious were the words heard frequently regarding the gala opening of the new Grand Biloxi Casino Hotel and Spa on Biloxi's Casino Row. Thousands of invited guests were on hand for the VIP opening of the newly refurbished casino, which had been closed since Hurricane Katrina last August 29.

Harrah's pulled out the stops to welcome their guests to the property, but company officials would not say how much the renovations cost. Dignitaries and public officials were also on hand for the event.

Casino officials that the new casino and hotel, which is in the former Grand Bay View Hotel on the north side of the beach highway, was completely remodeled. Everything from the floors to the ceiling was replaced. Every one of the hotel's 500 rooms are completely new and include luxury features such as flat panel wide-screen TV's. There is also a huge spa that rivals the best in the world.

The 33,000 square-foot gaming floor has more than 800 slot machines, including some Harrah's exclusives, as well as 25 table games including Baccarat, Blackjack, Craps and Roulette.

Features also include new restaurants, Starbucks coffee, a huge new buffet just off the gaming floor and the popular LB's Steakhouse, which will now be open also for lunch.

Harrah's officials say they are excited about the Biloxi gaming market and envision a great recovery for the Coast and the area's gaming industry. The reopening of the Grand marks what Anthony Sanfilippo, the president of Harrah's Central Division, as only "phase one" of Harrah's plans for Biloxi.

Future plans have yet to be release, but work to remove what was the former Grand Casino is nearly complete.

Sanfilippo (photo lower left) told GCN that the property south of the highway will be cleared in just a little more than a month from now. He said that Harrah's has nearly finished the purchase of the Biloxi Casino Magic property and the company doesn't have plans to remove Casino Magic's hotel at this time, but the contents of the building have been removed.

"We are looking at it becoming part of the new operation, but perhaps as a condo or something else," Sanfilippo said.

Harrah's plans for the additional phases of their investment in the Biloxi property will be announced later this year. It is anticipated that the company  may invest over a $1 billion in future developments at the site. One thing seemed clear, Sanfilippo said the "Grand Casino" brand was likely to remain associated with the development in Biloxi. He said the brand has made a strong and very favorable impression on their customers.

Harrah's has been purchasing additional property in the area. There has been quiet talk that the Catholic Church was considering selling the damaged St. Michaels Church that is nearby. But Sanfilippo said, "We have not engaged with church officials to purchase the property."

Company officials said that nearly 95 percent of the Grand's 1,500 employees are from their former operations and have returned to work at the new Biloxi Grand. Sanfilippo praised the company's workers and their commitment to the company. He said many employees had some tough times after the hurricane and Harrah's raised over $1 million dollars for employee assistance since the hurricane. Housing is a concern he said, but most of the employees have found places to live.

The hotel was packed with guests from around the country. A steady stream of cars were arriving throughout the afternoon and evening. The special VIP opening preceded the regular opening, which occurred at 9 p.m. Guest were treated to food and beverages and throughout the casino and hotel there were musicians playing in the lobby and even a violinist was soloing in the spa. Out on the pool deck, guests enjoyed food and drink as well as live music and some colorfully, although scantily-clad, folks just for guests to look at. We are not sure they were lifeguards.

What was clear from visiting the "new" Grand is that Harrah's has done more than just "fix" the damaged property. The new Grand is an excellent example of what the future holds for the Coast's gaming industry.