State Debates Casino's Concrete Pond Concept

Tom Vaughn still believes his client will get permission to float the Golden Gulf Casino 200 feet from the edge of Biloxi's back bay.

"This is the very same project as it was proposed in 1995," the attorney said, while standing on the 15 acre property. "It hasn't changed an ounce."

The project hasn't changed. But the Secretary of State has. And Eric Clark isn't as willing as his predecessor to sign off on the Golden Gulf's concrete pond concept, because the pond wouldn't be on state owned tidelands.

"This is a proposed change in policy," Clark said.

So the Secretary of State invited city and state leaders to a forum that focused on whether the next generation of floating casinos should be surrounded by land.

"The question is, if you get off tidelands, how can we require tidelands rent?" asked Clark.

Moments later, Biloxi councilman George Lawrence answered that question. "I don't think they should be connected," he said, citing his constituents opposition to the casino project. "I think they should sit on the water."

Biloxi mayor A.J. Holloway had a much different perspective. "Let the casinos go in the basin. I don't have any problem with that," he said, pointing out that a basin would save wear and tear on barges, and protect them from storms.

Clark wasn't taking a stand either way. "My number one priority is protecting the tidelands program, and protecting the funding for the tidelands program," he said.

Since 1992, casinos have paid $42 million into the state's tidelands fund. That money has paid for improvements to piers and harbors around South Mississippi. Attorney Vaughn said his client has agreed to add to that total. "We're ready, willing and think it's appropriate for us to pay a tidelands lease like everyone else," he said.

Golden Gulf is facing a bit of a time crunch. Its 10 year old development permits expire at the end of the year.

Earlier in the week, the Biloxi city council voted down the master plan. But, it could be reconsidered at an upcoming meeting.

At the forum, the Secretary of State asked every state agency tied to casinos to appoint one person to a new committee. That committee will create the roadmap Mississippi follows when it determines where casinos float in the future. Its first meeting will be in a couple of weeks.