Bernie Burkholder keeps insisting the safest bet for Treasure Bay casino is to move his barge closer to Highway 90. That would give it a buffer from storm surge.
But so far, the Secretary of State's office has blocked that move, because Treasure Bay owes more than a million dollars in tidelands rent to the state.
So Treasure Bay is in a bind. It can't move away from the storms. And it can't afford hurricane insurance.
"I would say there are people here that are doing praying, and there definitely is some gambling going on here," Burkholder said.
But not the kind of gambling that has anything to do with slot machines. This gamble is a high stakes risk that could cost Treasure Bay a pirate's treasure ransom.
Burkholder admitted, "It's certainly one of the greatest gambles" his company has ever taken. "I can't argue with that."
Burkholder won't ever forget how his casino became a battering ram for past storms. He has $34 million in repair bills to constantly remind him of Treasure Bay's precarious position in the Mississippi Sound.
"I don't think we've seen certainly anything close to what it could be. But we've had more than our share of misfortune with hurricanes," he said.
In 1998, Hurricane Georges hit Treasure Bay hard. Five years later, Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili were even more devastating.
"It was a mess," Burkholder remembered, as he described the downed awnings, and the broken walkways that littered his property.
Inside the casino, damage from back-to-back 2003 storms was just as devastating.
"Literally, you could stand in the middle of the casino and look at the Gulf of Mexico. So it was not a good situation," the executive said.
Burkholder won't forget those scenes. Insurance companies won't forget the bills. They've told Treasure Bay they have no interest in providing affordable coverage for a casino with Treasure Bay's track record during hurricanes.
So for the second straight summer, Treasure Bay may go into hurricane season without hurricane insurance.
"If it does happen, I think the one thing we've proven over the years is we're survivors," said Burkholder. "We're going to get reopened, build and come back some way."
On Tuesday, the Secretary of State's office confirmed that settlement talks have recently been held between the state and the casino. So, there's a chance the tidelands issue could be settled out of court, and Treasure Bay could move forward with its plans to move its barge out of harm's way.
by Brad Kessie