Is Curbside Gambling In Biloxi's Future?

Golden Gulf wants to float its casino in a manmade basin more than 200 feet from the back bay.  But in a letter to area elected leaders, Secretary of State Eric Clark said a casino floating in a hole could cost the state millions of dollars in tidelands fees.

That letter was the focus of Biloxi's public hearing on the Golden Gulf project.  The debate centered on a 15 acre property near Back Bay Boulevard and Crawford Street. Most of the site is already zoned for a casino. It's where Golden Gulf developers would like to dig a hole and float their gambling barge.

Tom Vaughn is the Golden Gulf attorney who spoke for the group at a Biloxi public hearing.

"This project just as you see it was absolutely approved by the gaming commission, General Harvey, by every regulatory board that it had to receive a permit from back in 1994."

Just before the public hearing started, Secretary of State Eric Clark sent out his letter. He wrote that the precedent a manmade basin would set "could severely deplete if not obliterate the public trust tidelands fund."

Part of that fund comes from tidelands leases paid by nine of the coast's 12 casinos. That money is used to enhance piers and harbors, and support education projects about the environment.

The letter worried councilman Tom Wall.

"I don't want to do any rezoning until I'm sure that we need to rezone," Wall said.

Listen to what councilman Jim Compton said about a manmade casino basin 200 feet south of the back bay.

"This has taken us from waterfront gambling to curbside gambling," he said.

Vaughn said the basin idea simply followed a concept pitched by gaming commissioner Len Blackwell.

"We see a change in the attitude of the commission that is good for Biloxi and good for the coast," the casino attorney said, "because it allows us to protect these investments, which protects the infrastructure of the city."

Here's what you need to understand. Golden Gulf's zoning request was for a one acre piece of land at the southeast corner of its project. The Biloxi Planning Commission urged the casino group to get the zoning change so the entire area had the same waterfront classification. That decision is what got tabled for two weeks.

Between now and then, the casino group and the Secretary of State are supposed to talk, to see if they can work out the bigger issue -- whether Golden Gulf must pay the state to float a casino in a manmade hole.