Could Casinos Move To Land?

As Hurricane George proved in 1998, every casino barge is at the mercy of mother nature's fury.  Just ask Duncan McKenzie.  His casino remained closed for a month after Georges came ashore. Since then, Grand Casino has dodged several bullets.

"We've been so fortunate so far," he said. "But I've got real concerns about this next one."

Whether it's the next one, Ivan, or the one after that, the people on an ad hoc committee established by the Secretary of State know there's a storm out there that could jeopardize the future of the casino industry.

"That's the concern absolutely," said McKenzie.

The ad hoc committee he serves on is looking at possible ways to protect the state tidelands fund, and protect the casinos at the same time. One option is moving the casinos onto land within their property boundaries.

Mikel Gusa represents the Department of Marine Resources on the ad hoc committee.

"I really think it's very unlikely it will come to pass," he said after the committee's fourth meeting. "But certainly it's the charge of this committee that we need to explore that option."

McKenzie supports the exploratory look. But the casino executive isn't sure this panel should endorse any form of land based gambling.

"Certainly it probably affords the best level of protection," he said. "But is that an attainable goal or not? We don't know."

Bob Engram isn't on the committee. But he is one of the original Mississippi Gaming Commissioners who required land based amenities to be included in any casino project.

"I'm comfortable with almost anything that we can get to, without becoming really land based north of Highway 90," he said. "It will help the casino withstand winds or surge."

Right now, the land based talk is just that -- talk. Whether it's part of the committee's final recommendation to lawmakers won't be known until November.

An engineering firm has come up with five other ways to protect casinos from storm damage. All five options keep the casinos floating -- either on the shoreline or in man-made ponds.