MS Agencies Begin Inland Casino Discussions

Some casino developers would like to move their projects off the shoreline. That would protect their barges from storm damage, and everyday wear and tear.

On Wednesday, a committee of casino regulators and industry leaders began a discussion about whether it's time for South Mississippi casinos to move inland.

Secretary of State Eric Clark negotiates tidelands leases with coast casinos. So his office has a vested interest in where casinos operate.

"I think very clearly we need to know what is a legal site under the current law," Clark told a group of state and casino industry leaders.

Clark organized the ad hoc task force. The committee included more than a dozen gaming regulators and casino executives. Its mission is to see whether the time is right to move casinos off the shoreline. Incoming gaming commissioner Jerry St. Pe is on the committee.

"This industry generates 10% of the budget of the state of Mississippi," he pointed out. "So it's about protecting the economy of the state."

The ad hoc committee came together after the Golden Gulf group moved forward with its casino plans for an east Biloxi property. It wants to float a casino in a manmade basin, 200 feet south of the Back Bay. Nothing like that has been done at South Mississippi casinos.

"This is a 10 year old plan," Golden Gulf attorney Michael Cavanaugh told the committee. "This isn't new. This isn't different. It's just now coming to fruition."

Clark countered by asking, "This is kind of the entry level question to me is where you're proposing to go, is it a legal site?"

Committee members know the answer to that question will greatly impact east Biloxi. It will also impact industry leaders who worry about storm damage, and barge erosion sinking their casinos.

Jerry St. Pe thinks there's a compromise out there that can protect casinos, and protect the state's tidelands fund. St. Pe said it was up to this committee to find that middle ground.

"The focus has to be, are there opportunities there that can bring about a higher level of confidence and security," said St. Pe.

The ad hoc committee will meet every two weeks. The only power it has is to make a recommendation about where casinos should dock. Any change in the gaming law must be approved by the legislature.