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A State of Mind

Karen Sock, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer, Margaritaville Casino and Restaurant, Biloxi

A State of Mind

Karen Sock moved to Mississippi in June 2005 to become vice president and assistant general manager at Harrah’s Grand Casino Gulfport. Ten weeks later, that casino and many others on the Gulf Coast were destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. The catastrophic storm moved on, but Sock stayed put.

“Katrina devastated many of our 6,000 employees,” says the Cleveland native, who earned her stripes at properties in New Orleans and California as well as Mississippi. “I remained and helped with the recovery.”

Like so many others, says Sock, “we lost everything we owned. While the losses were painful, it placed new emphasis on what is really important.” Working side by side with her new neighbors, she says, “I fell in love with the spirit of the people and decided to stay.”

Now general manager and chief operating officer at Biloxi’s Margaritaville Casino & Restaurant, due to open this summer, Sock cut her teeth in the hotel industry, working for the Sheraton, Marriott and Holiday Inn hotels before becoming the first black female casino manager (at Harrah’s Tunica) in 1996.

She told Jet magazine at the time, “I am very proud because I know people of color and women and others will look to me for leadership. But it is only my performance that will determine my future success.”

That performance has been impressive. Sock has effectively managed hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues for casino companies including Harrah’s (now Caesars) and Grand Casinos. Perhaps as important, she’s made a deep personal investment in the communities where she’s worked, and in the employees she’s shepherded up the ladder.

“At the end of the day, business is about people,” Sock says. “The wisdom others shared with me helped me in achieving my goals, and it’s a priority in my professional life to mentor others.”

A pivotal mentor for her was industry veteran Tom Brosig, now president and CEO of Margaritaville Biloxi. The two first worked together in 1997 in Tunica; in 2010, Brosig tapped Sock to consult on the Jimmy Buffett casino, and quickly added her to the executive team.  

Some thought the Biloxi casino would never be built. Margaritaville originated in 2007 as a Harrah’s/Caesars project on the city’s famed Casino Row. It was shelved in 2008 when the economy went south, and then revived as an independent venture. Along the way, it was scaled back from a $700 million palace to a $48 million Back Bay property with swaying palms and 27 boat slips. The latter is far more reflective of Buffett’s laid-back, gone-fishin’ ethos—and it’s better suited to the economy. With 26 acres, there’s room to grow, and Margaritaville’s independent management company, based in Orlando, Florida, hopes to draw Buffett fans from across the U.S. (5 percent of the population listens daily to Margaritaville radio, Sock says).

“It’s is the perfect model for our community,” says Sock. “When you think of Jimmy Buffett and the whole escapism lifestyle, this is the perfect fit, ideal for the Gulf Coast.”

Sock fits right in too. Describing the Margaritaville team and brand as “powerful,” she promises, “We’re going to hit this one out of the park.”