Riverwalk Casino is first to open in city in 14 years

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A crowd of hundreds of eager customers lined up outside Riverwalk Casino early Tuesday evening in anticipation of the opening of Vicksburg’s fifth casino — the first to open in the city in 14 years.

“It’s always an exciting night. Everybody wants to be the first in the casino during an opening to be the first to sit down at the machines and win the first big jackpot,” said Mississippi Gaming Commission Executive Director Larry Gregory, who has overseen every casino opening in the state since 1996.

A line began to form around 4 p.m. Tuesday, said Riverwalk Marketing Director Ginny Tzotzolas, and although many were visibly perturbed when told at 5 p.m. it would be about another hour before the doors were opened, few left their places in line. When the doors were opened, those who had waited hours to get a glimpse of the $100 million facility rushed into the casino with shouts and cheers. 

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Located on Warrenton Road south of downtown Vicksburg, Riverwalk Casino features 805 slot machines and 18 gaming tables on its single-story, 25,000-square-foot gaming floor. Two restaurants are located on the gaming floor. Meeting space is on the second floor adjacent to a five-story, 80-room hotel. The casino and hotel will employ 500 people.

“I just came out to see what all the fuss is about,” said James Knox of Jackson, who took his place in an already formed line shortly before 5 p.m. “It looks like a pretty nice casino, and I had planned to get here earlier because I knew there would be a long line. Some of these people probably took off work to come here.” 

A grand opening planned that is for Dec. 11-13 will feature promotions and giveaways at private and public events, Tzotzolas said.

Riverwalk is the first casino to open in Vicksburg since neighboring Rainbow Casino opened in June 1994, and the first to open in Mississippi since Harlow’s opened in Greenville on Thanksgiving last year. Four casinos opened in Vicksburg within 18 months after Warren County voters agreed to developments in a 1992 referendum. The state’s enabling legislation, which limits casinos to Gulf Coast and Mississippi River sites where county voters don’t veto them, passed in 1990.

Gregory said Riverwalk will likely be the benchmark for any future gaming development in Vicksburg.   

“This casino is going to be crucial in regard to where the Vicksburg market goes from here,” he said. “Right now you’re not going to see any new developments because the economy is so tight, but any potential developers in the future are going to look at Riverwalk to see if they were able to grow the Vicksburg market.”

Gaming tax revenue paid to the city, county and school district was off by about 3.8 percent in the fiscal year ending in September compared to the year previous. Mississippi Gaming Commission Branch Director in Vicksburg John Gorman said he anticipates the city’s market to expand at least a little in the coming year with the opening of Riverwalk.

“It will certainly help sustain the market that is already here, and I think it will grow it some,” he said.

On the drawing board since 2005, Riverwalk began construction in the summer of 2007. A river walk and extensive landscaping project featuring native plants is still in the works and expected to be constructed in the coming months, said Tzotzolas.

“You just can’t find a better property on the market right now than this. The machines are state of the art and everything is really first rate,” said Gregory. “This is an absolutely beautiful property and I am so proud Vicksburg is getting a casino of this calibre.”  

Riverwalk’s opening brings the number of casinos regulated by the Mississippi Gaming Commission to 30. The Mississippi Band of Choctaws also owns and independently regulates two casinos in the Philadelphia area.

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Contact Steve Sanoski at ssanoski@vicksburgpost.com.