Coast reacts to new MS gaming regulations

The State Gaming Commission said on Thursday the days of building casinos without hotels, like Margaritaville Biloxi, are over.
The State Gaming Commission said on Thursday the days of building casinos without hotels, like Margaritaville Biloxi, are over.

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Margaritaville, Boomtown, and Silver Slipper may the last of their kind on the Mississippi Coast. The State Gaming Commission said on Thursday the days of building casinos without hotels are over.

Palace Casino General Manager Keith Crosby said, "I think we've already demonstrated that without certain amenities and an entire resort package all we're going to do is make the slices of the pie smaller instead of growing the overall market and tourism in general."

Initially the Mississippi Gaming Commission considered requiring new casino developments to build what are considered four star hotels, a rating seen at luxury properties. The rating change to three-diamond was a relief to some folks on the coast who said four star is simply out of the price range of most coast visitors. However, there is still some concern about the 300 hotel room requirement.

But others see the room requirement as protecting the future of the casino industry.

"It helps guarantee that the market as we go forward is going to be a quality market and not something that's slot parlors," said Attorney Michael Cavanaugh, who has represented casino interest since the 1980s.

Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel said the commission made a good call.

"One of the concerns from a lot of the existing casinos was that they were going to have to compete with new applicants for casinos that might not have the financial substance to survive," Creel said. "What this does is make sure that anyone who comes forward with a plan certainly has their finances in order and has the amenities it takes to create a full resort type development. I think the gaming commission made the right decision."

Long Beach leaders sent a letter to the commission opposing the change. City officials said at a meeting Tuesday night that without large tracks of available land, large scale projects aren't likely to locate in their town.

Alderman Gary Ponthieux authored the letter to the commission.  Ponthieux said after the commission decision, "I'm definitely not happy with 300 rooms. The innovation market study that I looked at said that 200 rooms is more than adequate. That's just not fair. The 300 rooms not fair at all."

"I definitely will be speaking to our House Gaming Chairman Richard Bennett and several others that are involved. This is really a shock to me that they've allowed this to happen. They are seriously jeopardizing Long Beach's future for a vital economic impact, as well as much needed jobs and taxes for the city, as well as the state."

However, not everyone thinks the room number requirement will stop smaller cities from cashing in on gaming.

Cavanaugh said, "It's a regulation which means you can always work with commission, which they have in past, on how you meet the regulation."

The commission said casino projects already approved have until December 31st to start building under the old regulations.

Mississippi Gaming Commissioner John Hairston said, "Is the hotel room requirement or casino floor space hard and fast? The commission specifically reserved the flexibility to use prudent decision-making in each application. We are looking for value. We are looking for jobs, tax revenue to communities, school districts, and the State. So we will make exceptions where it is clearly in the best interest of the taxpayers."

"Further, we are open-minded on trading size for the value of an amenity.  For example, in Tunica we have a higher than desired occupancy hotel rooms," said Hairston. "If an applicant suggested they would build Six Flags Over Tunica if we would relax the hotel requirement, I would anticipate my fellow commissioners would be warm to considering such a trade."

Copyright 2013 WLOX. All rights reserved.