Company veteran reflects on dockside gaming’s 25th anniversary

Company veteran reflects on dockside gaming’s 25th anniversary

47

Mississippi Power’s Damon Penny vividly remembers the advent of dockside gaming on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the company’s role in providing the new entertainment venues with safe and reliable electricity.

Penny, a commercial marketing specialist, 36-year company veteran and main marketing representative for casinos, said like many others on the Coast, no one was quite sure what to expect when the first gaming riverboats and barges opened for business on Aug. 1, 1992.

“All the details on the utility infrastructure around the casinos fell into place quickly,” said Penny, who at the time was in his 11th year with the company. “We all worked non-stop to get everything ready for their arrival, including a total re-do of our grid setup along the beach. In the past, all that was there were seafood factories and restaurants. Now you had these riverboats and barges that also needed lights for parking lots and other amenities as well as greater demand load.”

At the time, Penny says no one was really sure what the future would hold for the industry.

“The three casinos that I opened on the Coast right off the bat where the Isle of Capri, the Biloxi Belle and the President,” Penny added. “All those were riverboats and barges. At the time, we really thought all we would have here was a lot of riverboats.”

Penny went on to say one of the more interesting casino setups was at the President, a riverboat casino located in Biloxi on the old Broadwater marina property.

“The President ran on generators when it first went into service,” he said. “To get lines out to the property, we actually had to buy a few plots in the old cemetery that was located just north of Highway 90 adjacent to the property. Fortunately, those plots were empty.”

Twenty-five years later, the company now serves 12 casinos up and down the Coast.

Most believe the casino game changer came first with the large casino hotels at Casino Magic Biloxi, Grand Casino Biloxi and Grand Casino Gulfport, and eventually the Beau Rivage.

“Without the Beau, this market wouldn’t be what it is today. When we found out the Beau and Imperial Palace were coming, we took a trip out to Nevada to get a feel for how the casinos were served and what the expectations were,” Penny added.

There were also a lot of smaller hotels opening along the Coast at that time, which added to the growth of the industry in south Mississippi.

All that changed on Aug. 29, 2005, when Hurricane Katrina came ashore.

“At the time, we weren’t even sure if many of the casinos would rebuild after the storm,” Penny said. “Fortunately, they did rebuild and we did whatever we could to get them back up and running along with everyone else. We still hear from casino executives about the company’s outstanding response to the storm and its aftermath.”

Now, during gaming’s silver anniversary, Penny says it continues to be an exciting and adventurous relationship.

“I’ve been doing this for a long time,” Penny concluded. “What’s best about it is the relationships you build throughout the years. I’ve worked with some great people and made some great contacts, some of whom I now consider friends, from slot technicians to casino general managers.”

Mississippi Power, a subsidiary of Southern Company (NYSE: SO), produces safe, reliable and environmentally responsible energy for nearly 187,000 customers in 23 southeast Mississippi counties. Mississippi Power ranked first in the Southeastern Electric Exchange’s 2016 Safety Performance Reports and is consistently recognized as an industry leader in reliability, customer service and safety. Visit our websites at www.mississippipower.com and www.mississippipowernews.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and YouTube.