By Gary Trask
My first exposure to the 62 miles of white sand beaches on Coastal Mississippi came in April 2009, when I was invited on a media trip to tour the region’s casinos and golf courses. Having never been to Mississippi, I had no idea what to expect as I flew south from Boston.
What I found out rather quickly was that there may not be a better place in the U.S. if you're on the hunt for an affordable combination of high-quality casinos, golf, food, music, culture, shoreline and optimal weather.
Since that initial trip a little more than a decade ago, I've had the good fortune to make it back to the area frequently, for both business and pleasure. With each return trip, my adulation for the region has only been magnified, thanks to the continuing string of new beach-side restaurants, a state-of-the-art minor league baseball stadium, a local brewery, INFINITY Science Center, an aquarium sitting on 5.3 acres in Gulfport (coming later this year) and more.
Oh, and that's not even touching on what's happening at the area's casinos.
Since this is a gambling column, today we present an in-depth look at just some of the new features and amenities being introduced at casinos, providing further evidence as to why you really need to make Coastal Mississippi your next gambling destination.
10. Topgolf at The Beau
The casino invasion of Topgolf continues to take the U.S. by storm and in September it will make its way to the Gulf Coast at the inimitable Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, which also boasts one of my favorite all-time golf courses, Fallen Oak, as an amenity exclusive to its guests.
Back in the spring, to help celebrate the 20th anniversary of its opening, I wrote a Top 10 reasons to love Beau Rivage — and now we can add another item to that growing list, thanks to this fall's unveiling of the 3,700-square-foot, three-bay, “next-gen” lounge.
It features not just the wildly popular Topgolf game, but also Zombie Dodgeball, Hockey Shots, Baseball Pitching, Quarterback Challenge and Carnival Classic. Making the experience even more appealing is the adjacent Black Clover Lounge with its 10 HDTVs, two sports betting kiosks, and food and beverage service.
While the impressive, 150,000-square-foot flagship outdoor location is in Las Vegas, the indoor version of Topgolf (FYI, the first three letters stand for “target-oriented practice”) loved by golfers and non-golfers alike has been popping up in casinos all over the country, including in the northern part of Mississippi at Gold Strike Casino Resort, MGM Springfield in Massachusetts, Foxwoods Resort Casino in Connecticut and Ocean Resort Casino in Atlantic City.
More on Beau Rivage later in the column, but for now, we buzz up and down the coast with other news.
9. Buffet at the Hard Rock
I admit it. I’m a sucker for Hard Rock properties. The music-themed, memorabilia-filled properties never get old as far as I’m concerned, and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Biloxi ranks right up there with the best in the brand, thanks, in part, to its unforgettable location right on the coast.
It also doesn’t hurt that the rooms are ultra-hip, the pool deck overlooks the Gulf, and the massive casino floor is all-encompassing, with table games, slots, new sportsbook, and the majority of the property’s bars and restaurants all under one roof.
You’re also based right in the heart of the action, with Beau Rivage steps away next door and the can’t-miss Mary Mahoney’s restaurant right across the street.
In recent months, Hard Rock has added a sportsbook and a new tropical-themed center bar called iLOV305 (305 is the Miami area code and the bar is inspired by Pitbull, who was in attendance for last summer’s grand opening). In May, it opened another new dining venue, Satisfaction Buffet & Bar.
Like most of the restaurants here, the local seafood here is outstanding and, unlike most casino buffets, the price point is on point. You can get lunch, Monday through Friday, for 15 bucks and the peak price of $25.99 on Fridays and Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. includes a free draft beer. There are other daily bar specials as well as 2-for-1 beer, wine and well drinks every Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.
It’s truly a Las Vegas-style buffet without the Las Vegas price tag.
8. Treasure Bay Casino parking garage, casino space and sportsbook
Sitting about five miles west of Hard Rock on Beach Boulevard, Treasure Bay Casino and Hotel has added a new sportsbook, new casino space on and a parking garage, all within the last year.
The sportsbook is one of five on the Gulf Coast operated by William Hill, along with Hard Rock, Silver Slipper Casino, Palace Casino Resort and Boomtown Casino - Biloxi.
The third phase of the property’s expansion came on the second floor that provides easy access to the new parking garage and added 10,000 square feet to the casino and hotel. There’s more on the docket at Treasure Bay, with new a coffee shop in the works, as well.
7. Pizza and coffee at Scarlet Pearl
Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort is the newest casino venue on Coastal Mississippi. The ultramodern $300 million resort on the Back Bay opened in December 2015, but has certainly not stood pat since its grand opening, which included the unveiling of a $3 million miniature golf complex with 36 holes surrounded by gardens, waterfalls and an erupting volcano.
In addition to unveiling a new DraftKings sportsbook last fall, Scarlet Pearl added two unique restaurants earlier this year, giving it a full roster of both casual and fine dining options.
Ami Pizza? means “Do you love pizza?” in Italian, and if the answer is “yes” this place is most certainly worth the five-minute ride from the coast to D'Iberville. For traditionalists, there is the basic “Build Your Own Pizza” menu, but for those who like specialty pies, Ami Pizza? offers up everything from gluten-free, cauliflower crust options to a “Brunch Pizza” that comes with eggs and bacon.
Every world-class casino simply has to have an upscale, 24-hour cafe for those who are hit with sudden caffeine urges and that’s what Scarlet Pearl unveiled with the opening of Lounge Nocherie. The hip coffee stop has a dual-sided fireplace, luxury lounge seating, and homemade pastries and cakes prepared by award-winning Chef Wendy.
Scarlet Pearl was also in the headlines earlier this summer when it held a Wheel of Fortune Slot Tournament with the grand prize winner receiving $5,000 cash toward a trip with a guest to watch Pat and Vanna at live taping of the Wheel of Fortune game show in Hollywood.
6. Racebook at Palace Casino Resort
For my money, the Palace Casino Resort is one of the more underrated spots in this area. It’s not on the shoreline, like Beau Rivage and Hard Rock, and it isn’t owned by a major casino company.
But since it completed a massive redesign and renovation in 2011, and in the process going smoke-free, The Palace ranks right up there with one of my favorite casinos, thanks to its very hip sports bar, CONTACT, which as of last August started to offer sports betting, a truly fantastic signature steakhouse (Mignon’s Steaks & Seafood) and, of course, The Preserve, the amenity golf course in Vancleave, about a 20-minute ride from the casino, where the pristine conditions, outstanding service and value-laden green fees combine to consistently offer one of the better golf experiences I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying.
This past spring, just in time for the Kentucky Derby, The Palace unveiled the first racebook on Coastal Mississippi, which is hardly a surprise since the casino owners, Robert and Lawana Low, also operate a 300-acre horse farm in their hometown of Springfield, Missouri and are prominent Thoroughbred owners and breeders.
5. 406 Club opens at Harrah's
Taking a cue from The LINQ Hotel + Experience, its sister Caesars Entertainment property in Las Vegas that unveiled a “futuristic” sportsbook last fall, Harrah’s Gulf Coast now features a similar innovative sports betting experience.
The 406 Club at Harrah’s, which opened in July and is named in honor of a former gambling haven that was renowned in downtown Biloxi and closed in the late 1960s, follows the opening of the sportsbook that opened at the property last summer. It has the same look, feel and design as the one at The LINQ, with fan caves, Xbox consoles, interactive LCD screens, and live music and bar games such as beer pong, shuffleboard and foosball.
It also features state-of-the-art sports betting kiosks that utilize Scientific Games’ OpenBet Technology for in-play wagers and Interblock’s Bar Top Gaming, an interactive gaming experience that offers both traditional and non-traditional casino games.
No, this isn’t your grandfather’s sportsbook (except for the original 406 Club memorabilia the casino is hoping to decorate the walls with, which will add a very cool touch).
4. Island View expansion
In Gulfport, the independently owned Island View Casino Resort has been expanding on a regular basis for the last 13 years, ever since Hurricane Katrina’s wrath, spending a staggering $400 million in improvements and amenities.
The latest renovation came last summer, and I finally got a chance to check it out on my last jaunt to the Gulf Coast. The Beach Casino, a new $75 million, 43,000-square-foot, smoke-free area, is the fourth phase of the expansion and, as its name suggests, sits on the beach side of the resort, adjacent to Beach Tower.
Along with the 83,000-square-foot casino on the north side of the 1,000,000-square-foot resort, there are now 2,700 slots, 49 table games and 970 hotel rooms and suites in two towers, as well as two new sportsbooks.
Final note for golfers and gamblers: The amenity golf course, Windance Country Club, is perennially ranked as one of the best in the state, and for years has offered one of the best stay-and-play packages you’ll ever find. The “Unlimited Golf Package” starts at $99 per person and includes, you guessed it, unlimited golf with a cart and range balls, unlimited trips to the buffet, one hotel night, one free adult beverage at any casino venue and $10 free in slot play.
You simply don’t find deals like that anywhere else.
3. Biloxi House casino coming to Back Bay?
In recent months there has been some positive momentum toward adding additional casino resorts to the already high-quality roster of gaming venues that already exist here.
In June, the Mississippi Gaming Commission granted site approval for Biloxi House casino, a proposed $200 million resort that would be built on the Back Bay at the site of the former Margaritaville Casino, which closed in 2014.
According to a report in the Sun Herald, the resort’s look and feel would be a tribute to “historic, old Biloxi,” and include a 40,000-square-foot casino, a 12-story, 300-room hotel, three restaurants, an infinity, waterfront swimming pool, marina space, a spa and fitness center and entertainment venues.
2. Proposed new casino in Bay Saint Louis
Meanwhile, in Bay Saint Louis a new casino located on South Beach Boulevard received site approval from the Gaming Commission last month. The developer, according to reports, will be Cure Land Company, which plans to build the venue on 98.5 acres, including 40,000 square feet of gaming space and a 300-room hotel.
The quaint Bay Saint Louis sits on the Mississippi Sound, about 25 miles west from the center of the action in Biloxi, and an easy one-hour ride from New Orleans. The area is already home to two casinos — Silver Slipper Casino and Hollywood Casino - Gulf Coast — and if you find yourself in the area there are two “must visits.” For golfers, The Bridges Golf Club is a fun course and the only Arnold Palmer design in the state. And an excellent venue for post-round drinks is Buoy’s Bar on the waterfront famous for its bartenders offering free “train shots” when a train screams by the nearby tracks.
1. Sportsbook at Beau Rivage
Back in early May 2018, just weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court deemed PASPA was unconstitutional, leading to an explosion of U.S. states rolling out legalized sports betting, I wrote that Mississippi had the potential to become “Las Vegas South” for sports bettors.
Sports betting was promptly introduced in August 2018 in Mississippi, and 11 months later the state’s sportsbooks have brought in over $301 million with football (37.2%) and basketball (32.3%) attracting most of the action.
While the state won’t come near its ceiling for sports betting revenue until it figures out a way to offer full-blown mobile and internet wagers, the introduction of a brand new sportsbook at its crowned jewel casino will most certainly help.
Following in line with other MGM Resorts International properties, the Beau now features the TAP Book Bar & Bistreaux, with more than 100 HD screens, including a massive 24-foot wide by 14-foot tall video wall, inside the 7,000-square-foot space just off the main casino floor.
What makes this TAP venue unique is the tip of the sailor’s cap to its coastal location. The venue boasts “nautically-influenced interior features” as it tries to emulate the “craftsmanship of a luxury yacht” with walnut tabletops, quartz bar tops, and rustic end grain cut wood flooring, textured wall coverings and wood and stitched leather panels.
It will serve as a fantastic place to get cozy for a full day of football this fall with sofas and lounge chairs, two different bars, three video poker counters, VIP lounges and a main center bar with video poker machines and flex back seating.
See you soon, Beau Rivage.
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