Land Based Casinos Brought Up At Southern Gaming Summit

Len Blackwell is the chairman of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. He was part of a panel that analyzed the casino industry's future.

The commissioner told a room filled with casino executives that in his opinion, the future should include land based gambling. He said, "What we're doing by our laws presently isn't only allowing our gaming apparatus that supports the industry to be placed in probably the worst place of peril it could be, we're requiring them to be there."

Blackwell remembers the two storms last fall that slammed into Treasure Bay. Unless rules change, he fears what may happen when stronger storms roar toward other coast casinos. "We should be planning now and not trying to make snap decisions while we're sitting there, looking at debris, and trying to crank our chain saws," he said.

The gaming commission chairman told Southern Gaming Summit delegates that land based gambling must be considered as a viable option for future developers. According to Blackwell, "It's time for us to allow this complex organism to start moving land ward."

The Isle of Capri was the first casino to dock on Mississippi's shoreline. Isle executive Tim Hinkley was two seats away from Blackwell when the land based gambling topic came up. "The last time I spent any time with the legislature, I don't see them approving anything like that," said Hinkley. "They're just not knowledgeable about what it means to the state."

Blackwell understands that. That's why he said the gaming commission is doing a study to look at whether casinos on land can work in Mississippi. The study should be released late this year. He said, "What we're trying to do is gather information to provide the legislature on how to preserve what is our gaming tax revenues, what has become almost 10% of our state budget."

Before Blackwell brought up the land based idea, panel moderator Nancy Todd-Tyner mentioned it. The political consultant who helped convince Harrison County voters to approve dockside gambling talked about a conversation she just had in the Atlanta airport. A passenger headed to the casinos asked her why Mississippi didn't put casinos on land. "I said we couldn't have passed it on land,"Todd-Tyner told the audience. "We could pass it on land now. But we couldn't do it then."

That's what Commissioner Blackwell is counting on. "This is money that should be permanently fixed to the Mississippi economy, in my view," he said. "I don't think we would allow other important industries to be placed in that kind of position of peril."

Blackwell said a land based rule change would have to protect the casinos that are already here. And it would have to protect the tidelands money that casinos pay to the Secretary of State. His goal is to get people talking about the idea now, before the next big storm wallops the state.