By: Nancy Marchbanks
On August 1st, the Isle Casino Hotel Biloxi celebrated a very special milestone. They had succeeded in business for 18 years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The Isle was founded by Mr. Bernard Goldstein. He is known as the Father of Riverboat Gaming. It all began with the launch of the first casino riverboat in 1991, in Iowa. During the late 1980’s, America was in economic turmoil…not unlike what we are experiencing today. River towns were struggling because industry was leaving, which caused people to lose jobs at an alarming rate. The state of Iowa was working diligently to find a way to utilize riverfront property which would prove to be the catalyst for riverfront gaming. When Iowa passed legislation to allow riverfront gaming, soon several other states wanted a piece of the very lucrative pie…Mississippi was one of the first.
Goldstein was eager to expand his venture, and was very interested in the Magnolia state. Natchez was his first city of choice, but the city of Biloxi let it be known that they were very interested as well. The Isle of Capri, as we know it today, came to be on August 1st, 1992 in Biloxi. But the grand opening of two riverboats, The Diamond Lady and The Emerald Lady, is what started it all. Gaming exploded in Mississippi, and Biloxi certainly reaped the benefits. The Coast began to grow and flourish like never before. The Mississippi riverboat market was so successful that it quickly turned the sleepy little coastal community into an entertainment Mecca. Thanks to Barry Goldstein’s vision, the Gulf Coast became known as one of the best Gaming destinations in the country.
Goldstein was eager to expand his venture, and was very interested in the Magnolia state. Natchez was his first city of choice, but the city of Biloxi let it be known that they were very interested as well. The Isle of Capri, as we know it today, came to be on August 1st, 1992 in Biloxi. But the grand opening of two riverboats, The Diamond Lady and The Emerald Lady, is what started it all. Gaming exploded in Mississippi, and Biloxi certainly reaped the benefits. The Coast began to grow and flourish like never before. The Mississippi riverboat market was so successful that it quickly turned the sleepy little coastal community into an entertainment Mecca. Thanks to Barry Goldstein’s vision, the Gulf Coast became known as one of the best Gaming destinations in the country. Back in the 1920’s, there was an island off the Coast of Mississippi that was known as the Isle of Caprice. The island was used as a resort property. During prohibition, locals would flock there to enjoy their vices and adult entertainment, far away from prying eyes. When Goldstein visited the Coast to scout around the area and familiarize himself with the landscape, he was anxious to find a name for his new casino. When he heard the wonderful stories about the little legendary island, he felt it was the perfect name for his new enterprise. The Isle of Capri was born. In the beginning, riverboats on the Gulf of Mexico were simply barges with huge buildings on top of them. This worked very well until Katrina hit in 2005. The vulnerability of the boats was underestimated, and the dangers could not be ignored. The decision was made to approve Land Based Gaming following the devastation of Katrina. Casino buildings were now permitted to be on the waters edge. The Isle was in the process of building a new casino barge on Biloxi’s Back Bay, in the summer of 05. Upon completion, this replacement structure would be moved to the site of the existing casino at Point Cadet. The Isle had also recently opened a new expansion to the hotel. “The entire industry was poised for continued growth, and life in Biloxi could only be described as ideal,” said Senior Director of Corporate Communications, Jill Haynes.”It was a time when there were 12 casinos operating on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, generating more than $1 billion in annual gaming revenue. But when Katrina had completed her tirade, the Isle of Capri was completely lopsided, the marina building was in shambles, and there were too many gaping holes to count,” she added. The corporate headquarters for the Isle was in Biloxi at the time of Katrina, so it was necessary to move it. The corporate command center was re-established in Bossier City, Louisiana, at an Isle property there. The existing casino barge and the one under construction were both destroyed, and the parking deck was heavily damaged. Thankfully, the hotel survived. The Isle reopened in an astonishing 119 days because of the Land Base legislation change. “It allowed us to convert all of our convention space to gaming space” Jill said. The Isle is a very well appointed resort property. There are 710 hotel rooms, and over 200 of them are suites. A Spa, and fine dining is also available. The dining options include the fine dining at Farraddays’, the buffet, Cafe at the Point which serves 3 meals a day and is the only water view restaurant on the Coast, and Starbucks. The Tradewinds Market Place is a fast food outlet, which offers wonderful snacks and sandwiches. The Lava Bar is the feature entertainment facility, with live entertainment every Friday and Saturday in the Atrium area. As of September 6th, a banquet room will be available as well, and there are future plans for a Convention/ Showroom. A beautiful Affinity pool is outdoors, which is 2 levels – split stack with a waterfall, complete with a hot tub. The 18th Anniversary celebration was a month long affair. An $18,000 “Isle Play Giveaway” kicked off the event on the actual birth date of August 1st. Cake, balloons, and T-shirts were handed out to all the guests. Throughout the month, all promotions; hot seats, drawings, etc were under the birthday theme, and the culmination was with a BMW Giveaway, and a Chevy Camaro was also won by a very lucky customer! The Isle recently honored Team Members with a special luncheon and gift, that have been with the casino property since day one. Senior Director of Marketing Biloxi, Kim Goetz had this to say about the Isle, “We have a very strong customer service program, and our employees embrace that program and always treat our guests like they are guests in our homes. They really stepped up our service levels and that is what sets us apart.” Mr. Doug Shipley is the Vice President and General Manager. He has been with the Isle just over 2 years. There are 650 employees (Team Members) and an Executive staff. There are 15 people that have been with the Isle for the entire 18 years. That is a very rare occurrence in this business and speaks for itself. It is through the dedication and the service of all Team Members that makes the Isle an extraordinary place to visit. Jill Haynes said, “We are known on the Coast as one of the most, if not the most, friendly resort properties. Gaming brought to Biloxi a renewed spirit, and focus. The community has taken quite a number of hits between Katrina, the economy and now the oil spill, but that remarkable spirit is still alive and well in Biloxi.” “Community Aces,” is the volunteer and charitable arm of the Isle. Bernie Goldstein passed away last year, and the organization was formed to honor his legacy. He had such a deep appreciation for community spirit, and did so much, for so many during his lifetime. All the Team Members and executive staff of the Isle, strive to carry on his good work. They continue to perpetrate the charitable mind set he established in the very beginning, so many years ago.