BILOXI, Miss. – With powerful Hurricane Ivan (search) threatening the Mississippi Gulf Coast, the state Gaming Commission ordered the 12 coast casinos to close to patrons at noon Tuesday.
Casino workers had until midnight to finish securing the property and to seal the doors, said Mississippi Gaming Commission (search) spokeswoman Leigh Ann Wilkins.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami was forecasting Tuesday that Ivan would make landfall at about the Alabama/Mississippi line late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.
Biloxi, home to most of the casinos, is about 32 miles west of the state line. Mayor A.J. Holloway said local officials must deal not only with some 55,000 residents but at least that number of gamblers and tourists on any given day.
Mississippi law requires casinos to be built over water. The casinos are built on large barges, and it's difficult for customers to tell when they've left land and entered the floating portion of the buildings.
Ed Bak of Fairfield, Ohio, dropped quarters into a slot machine at the President Casino and said he wasn't concerned about Ivan ruining his vacation.
"I don't worry about what's going to happen tomorrow. We can't control it anyway," said Bak, who traveled to the Mississippi Gulf Coast this week on a bus tour with other Midwesterners.
"When you go somewhere, you take a chance," Bak said. "That's Mother Nature."
As part of closing the casinos, employees were removing coins from slot machines and money from bill changers. Gaming Commission agents and auditors were to help with the closings.
Maria Johnson, director of human resource at the President casino in Biloxi, said workers would lift up the ramp that connects the casino to the shore — a move intended to help waterproof the building and secure the slots and other equipment.
She said the President sustained some water damage during Tropical Storm Isidore (search) in 2002.
At Treasure Bay in Biloxi, manager Rodney Derouen said the casino — shaped like a pirate ship — suffered the most damage of any casino during Isidore. The tidal surge broke Treasure Bay's moorings, and one of the casino's walls caved in. Since then, the building has been strengthened.
"We're 10 times better than it was," Derouen said Tuesday. "All the back of the boat is steel-plated."
Gamblers continued playing slots and table games shortly before the casinos closed.
Officials say closing Mississippi Gulf Coast casinos because of a hurricane would cost state and local governments $385,747 a day in tax revenue.