The word casino typically seems to trigger the theme of gambling in a person’s mind, but not here in the dynamic small-town atmosphere of Gulfport. The Gulfport Casino has never been a gambling casino; it has always been a place where people can come together to enjoy socializing and special events. The Gulfport Casino Ballroom has been built three times resting upon the waters of Boca Ciega Bay.
“My favorite thing about the casino is how it is transformed from a blank canvas to a masterpiece each time it is rented. People rent out the casino and decorate it to their liking, then the casino transforms to an entirely different place,” Casino employee Tammy Ruhl said.
1906: The first casino was built in 1906. The two story building was built as a resting place for people who waited for ferry boats to pick them up. Since there were no bridges at the time that lead to the beach, people traveled by boat to reach the beach shores.
The second floor of the casino had a dance hall, and the casino soon became a place of social gatherings as well as a waiting dock for the ferry boats. A trolley system was in play that drove folks right up to the entrance of the casino. Tragedy struck and the casino was demolished by the Hurricane of 1921.
1924: The second casino was built and opened in 1924. This new structure was faintly closer to the shore and took on a similar style to the first. The casino was not as strongly built as the first, but people still piled in to dance and socialize. Automobiles were becoming a popular mode of transportation which limited the use of the trolley, but ferry boats still picked folks up from the dock of the casino. This casino’s life span ended so that a superior casino could be built.
1934: The third and final casino thus far was built in 1934. It has undertaken renovations to approve its appearance but is still the same one built in 1934. It is the home to many social events; the main one being dancing. The Gulfport Casino’s dance floor is 5,000 square feet, and has luxurious chandeliers which hang above it for elegant lighting. Adjacent to the dance floor is a bandshell stage and a bar, which is perfect for entertainment. It is rented out to people at fair prices for their special events, and hosts dance classes four nights out of the week.
The Gulfport Casino Ballroom in all three of its locations has been a strong historical landmark of the City of Gulfport. It is a place where people come from all over to celebrate, laugh, learn and be entertained by fellow peers. The word casino originally came from Italy (Not Las Vegas) which meant a house for social gatherings. The Gulfport Casino continues to be just that.
2011: Currently, the Gulfport Casino Ballroom features weekly dance lessons for just $7 per person. People can receive one-on-one instruction on an antique wooden dance floor. Lessons include swing dancing, ballroom, salsa and tango.
The old photos and facts about the casino were courtesy of The Gulfport Museum, and Lynne Brown.