Mississippi Mending: Mississippi director of tourism development D. Craig Ray gives a recovery update

Successful Meetings: As director of the Tourism Development Division of the Mississippi Development Authority, how would you say things are going with the rebuilding?

D. Craig Ray: We're working hard on the Gulf Coast's recovery and redevelopment. But to a degree, we're still in recovery mode, and taking inventory of what we have and do not have.

We're fortunate that we are able to accommodate the groups that were booked on the Gulf Coast at the sister casino properties in Tunica, or in Philadelphia [MS], Tupelo, Jackson, Vicksburg, or Natchez.

SM: What is the timeline for recovery?

Ray: The driving force is the casinos. Three of the casinos plan to be open this month. Also, many of the golf courses will be open by February.

SM: How does the casino legislation that Governor Barbour approved in October affect the casinos?

Ray: Mississippi House Bill 45 allows the Gulf Coast casino properties to rebuild their casinos 800 feet inland. This not only allows them to rebuild in a much safer manner, but it helps with insurance policies.

SM: Since House Bill 45's passing, a new casino has entered the market.

Ray: Yes, the Golden Nugget is seeking to develop a family-oriented resort with restaurants, an aquarium, and a marina. It will also rebuild the Seafood Museum, which was damaged. The proposal is in front of the Biloxi city council.

SM: What's the next step for the state?

Ray: Letting people know what else is open. We've got 130 other golf courses around the state that are spectacular. Tunica has nine casinos; and 75 percent of the state is completely open for business.