Top 10 reasons to make the Gulf Coast of Mississippi your next gambling destination

15 May 2017

Gamble. Golf. Drink. Eat. Music. Sun. Beach.

The Gulf Coast of Mississippi is overflowing with all of the above activities and attributes. Toss in the genuine Southern hospitality and charm of the good folks that live and work there, and it's really no wonder why the Biloxi/Gulfport area has become a favorite destination of yours truly over the years.

Apparently, I'm in good company with my opinion.

Earlier this month, Casino City attended the annual Southern Gaming Summit in Biloxi as the state celebrates the 25th anniversary of the first casino opening. One of the speakers at the conference was the legendary Jack Binion, a 50-year veteran of the industry who brought his Horseshoe Casino & Hotel - Tunica to Mississippi in 1995 before selling his company to Harrah's Entertainment in 2004 in one of the largest casino transactions in history.

"I'll tell you what, I was in five different jurisdictions during my career, and Mississippi is the greatest," Binion told Casino City. "They just did it right. They made things very pragmatic and they did it with a lot of integrity. I just love it here. I really do."

So, if you're not going to take my word for it, take Jack Binion's. The Mississippi Gulf Coast should be on every gambler's hit list. Here are 10 reasons why.

10. The resilience
The Gulf Coast of Mississippi has endured some tough times over the last decade. Hurricane Katrina, one of the five deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, walloped the area in August 2005. The devastation included the casino industry, most notably Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Biloxi, which was supposed to open the week after the vicious storm hit.

To help restore the gaming industry, then-Gov. Haley Barbour changed the state laws that required gaming to be handled on piers, boats or barges and allowed casinos to move off the water within 800 feet of the shore. The industry eventually recovered — casinos began reopening in late 2005, and the Hard Rock finally enjoyed its grand opening in July 2007 — but a national recession, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2009 and two other hurricanes left their mark.

"It's been a wild ride," Biloxi Mayor Andrew Gilich told Casino City. "But, look around, and you'll see we have more than survived. We are resilient."

He's right. There is a vivacious vibe engulfing the Biloxi area right now. And the state has received its fair share of assistance from the casino industry, which has put $24 million in taxes into the state, counties, cities, first responders and school districts over the last 25 years.

"We thought it would bring in around $35 million," Mississippi Sen. Tommy Gollott said during a seminar at Southern Gaming Summit. "That's why the casino legislation is one of the greatest bills ever passed in the state."

9. The beach
There are 62 miles of scenic shoreline in between Biloxi and Bay St. Louis and, quite simply, it's a gorgeous site.

Whether you're running or walking Beach Boulevard, hitting up one of the amazing oceanfront pool decks at Beau Rivage Resort Casino or the Hard Rock, or grabbing a sunset cocktail at Shaggy's Biloxi Beach, this striking stretch of beach is the perfect respite from sitting at a blackjack table, the kind of offering certainly not found in Las Vegas.

There are also plenty of water activities, such as Jet Ski rentals, fishing expeditions and bird-watching, all within an easy drive or walk from the major resort casinos.

8. New businesses
A number of new businesses have popped up in the area in recent years, including the Biloxi Brewing Company, which opened in January in downtown Biloxi.

Tours are now available and include sample tastings of the company's five delicious offerings. While we loved the Biloxi Blonde, a "classic straw-blond brew" with a light body that is, by far, the brewery's best seller, we were also enamored with the heavier Black Gold, based on extra stouts historically brewed in Ireland. And for you teetotalers out there, the homemade ginger ale is the best I've ever tasted.

Mark Cowley, one of the four founders of Biloxi Brewing, is a former Air Force meteorologist who developed a passion for the art of craft brews and started the company in 2014.

Beginning in July, the tap room in Biloxi will be able to serve beers on a regular basis, thanks to a new law that was passed earlier this year allowing Mississippi breweries that produce no more than 60,000 barrels of light beer or wine per year to sell up to two cases of their product per day per customer. Previously, breweries were only allowed to provide small samples of beer during tours and other special events.

Other new businesses in the area include:
• Sitting steps away from the Pass Christian harbor, Hotel Whiskey was the first hotel to open in Pass Christian in 90 years. It's an 11-room boutique and the Whiskey Prime Bar has quickly become a favorite.
• Pop Brothers, a family-owned business featuring handcrafted artisan popsicles made from fresh fruit, herbs and spices, recently opened two more locations in Ocean Springs and Bay St. Louis.
• Woody's Roadside Biloxi opened earlier this year on Beach Boulevard. Very cool atmosphere and design and a great spot for apps, drinks and burgers.
• Fishbone Alley, located in the heart of historic downtown Gulfport, calls itself a "funky little destination" and was recently named one of the "8 Amazing American Streets You've Never Heard Of" by the New York Post, which described it as an "unassuming backstreet" where "live blues music brings bold graffiti art to life."

7. MGM Park
Also new to the area, MGM Park, conveniently located smack dab in between Beau Rivage and Biloxi Brewing Company, is home to the Biloxi Shuckers, the Double A affiliate team for the Milwaukee Brewers.

The 5,000-seat park opened in 2015 and is state-of-the-art, yet cozy. It's the classic "there's not a bad seat in the house" venue, with an array of food and drink choices and a "Fun Zone" for kids in right field. Each game features some sort of special food, and each game offers some sort of creative promotion such as post-game fireworks, giveaways or All-You-Can-Eat Wednesdays. We timed our visit perfectly with a Thirsty Thursday, which allowed us to take advantage of $2 Yuengling drafts.

6. Ocean Springs
If you're sensing there's a whole lot more to do in Biloxi than just gambling, you are correct. One of the worthy nongaming options is a trip to Ocean Springs, on the eastern shore of Biloxi Bay, about five miles from downtown Biloxi.

Ocean Springs is a great spot to spend the afternoon for lunch, shopping, or visiting some of the numerous galleries and art studios. It's also home to over 100 restaurants and bars. For late-night music and spirits, don’t miss The Juke Joint, a local favorite with an authentic menu, outdoor seating and games.

5. Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort
OK, let's get back to gambling, which is, of course, the primary reason for your visit to Mississippi. The Gulf Coast has more than a dozen choices for casino gaming, the newest being the Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort, which opened its doors in December 2015.

Set on the Back Bay of Biloxi, the $300 million resort has 300 ultra-chic guest rooms, complete with floor-to-ceiling windows, walk-in showers, motorized shades and 55-inch LED TVs. The casino floor is spacious at more than 60,000 square feet, including a 10-table poker room.

Like most new resort-casinos, there are plenty of nongaming amenities at Scarlet Pearl, including a swimming pool, fitness center and seven bars and restaurants (we loved the atmosphere, cocktails and oysters at Butler's Bar & Lounge). Outside the resort there is the Lava Links Golf Club, a $3 million miniature golf complex with 36 holes surrounded by gardens, waterfalls, footbridges, music and an erupting volcano.

4. Music
The Mississippi Delta is the birthplace of blues music, and those genes definitely trickle down to the Gulf Coast. There are an abundance of local spots to catch live music of all kinds, and if headline acts are your thing, there's an regular schedule of concerts at Beau Rivage, IP Casino Resort and Spa and the Hard Rock featuring the likes of ZZ Top, Kool & The Gang, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Gary Allan, Skid Row, Gavin DeGraw, The Cult, Vanessa Williams, 38 Special and more.

During our stay, we were lucky enough to catch renowned cover band Dr. Zhivegas at Beau Rivage's always-happening Eight75 bar and the place was jamming.

3. Southern cuisine
To be fair, we could have dedicated an entire column — make that a month's worth of Top 10s — to the quality food choices on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, especially if you fancy seafood.

Trust me, the people down here love their food. Whether it's surf or turf, barbecued or blackened, you will undoubtedly find a menu item that is unique to the area and something you've never tried before.

Two of the best meals during my most recent jaunt to the Gulf Coast came at Coast Seafood & Brew at Beau Rivage and across the street at Half Shell Oyster House.

Coast is the newest addition to the Beau's menu of restaurants. Not only is the food selection outstanding (the oysters are fresh and tasty), but the new layout and design is outstanding, with an extended bar, 16 high-definition TVs and plenty of comfortable seating. There are more than 40 craft beers available, as well as a raw bar. The servers here are also over-the-top friendly and accommodating.

Half Shell Oyster House has nine locations in the south, with five of them in Mississippi. The downtown Biloxi venue opened in 2011 and was retrofitted from a historic two-story bank building, complete with antique chandeliers, deco brick walls and French Quarter art adorning the walls and ceilings. As cool as the atmosphere is, the food is even better. The Charboiled Oysters are the signature starter, and for good reason, but you also can’t go wrong with the fried green tomatoes, crab cakes or smoked yellow fin tuna dip.

3. Golf
Last year, a number of Mississippi layouts landed on the list of my favorite resort casino golf courses, including a handful on the Gulf Coast. There's a great variety of designs and price points, including The Bridges, the only Arnold Palmer creation in the state, Grand Bear, a classic Jack Nicklaus course and The Preserve, a stunningly beautiful and fun design from Jerry Pate.

But, without a doubt, the crown jewel of golf in Mississippi is Fallen Oak, which plays host to the PGA Champions Tour's Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic each spring.

There's good reason Fallen Oak is perennially considered the top course in the state and the No. 2 casino golf course in the U.S., behind MGM sister course Shadow Creek in Las Vegas.

Upon arrival you are whisked into the locker room, where there a nameplates for the likes of Peyton Manning, Pete Rose and Michael Jordan. There's an expansive practice area complete with two short-game areas and the extravagant clubhouse boasts what Golf Digest called one of the best 19th Holes in the country, with a sunken down bar that overlooks the 18th hole.

If you're a golfer and you're on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, you need to play Fallen Oak. Of course, the only way you can do that is if you stay at . . .

1. Beau Rivage Resort & Casino
Fallen Oak is reserved exclusively for guests of Beau Rivage, but that's not the only reason the impressive MGM-owned property should be your resort casino of choice on the Gulf Coast.

Everything is first-class at Beau Rivage, which means "beautiful shore" in French, beginning with the exquisite lobby, first-rate service and lush guest rooms. We’ve already mentioned the pool, Eight75 bar, the live entertainment roster and Coast Seafood & Brew above, but The Spa and BR Prime, the signature steakhouse, are also can't-miss amenities. In addition, the always-bustling casino floor offers smoke-free and high-limit sections as well as one of the most uniquely designed poker rooms you'll ever see a flop in.

While we have experienced great stays at the neighboring Hard Rock, as well as the nearby IP Casino Resort and Spa and Palace Casino Resort, in the past, a stay on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is never complete without spending time at "The Beau."

Related Links
Casino City Press Gaming Vendor Information
Beau Rivage Resort & Casino Details
Hard Rock Hotel & Casino - Biloxi Details
Scarlet Pearl Casino Resort Details
IP Casino Resort and Spa Details
Horseshoe Casino & Hotel - Tunica Details
Palace Casino Resort Details
Mississippi Gambling
Southern Gaming Summit 2017