BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Two casino developers are probably wondering what went wrong at this morning's meeting of the state gaming commission. The three commissioners voted unanimously to reject two sites, one in Diamondhead and another in Biloxi.
The commission decided the two locations are not legal gaming sites, because they feel the developers do not control land to the water's edge, which is required by state law. But, the debate may not be over.
The vote was swift, taking just moments to reject both sites, but only after a rare behind closed doors executive session to discuss two things; possible litigation and a possible court appeal of any decision.
The decision left the developers, Jacobs Entertainment of Diamondhead and Ray Wooldridge of RW Development in Biloxi, in shock. The attorney for both was also left wondering about the vote.
"Well, we're disappointed that they ignored all the expert testimony since there is zero evidence in the record that disputes the state's expert, NOAA, the DMR, and any other regulatory body that determines where the mean high water line is," attorney Michael Cavanaugh said.
A recent letter to the commission from Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes, who was critical of the sites, may have played a role, according to the attorney.
"The fact that a competing mayor is opposing development in another city on the coast, two other cities on the coast, doesn't surprise me," Cavanaugh explained.
Consultants in favor of the two sites had another theory. One of them is Stan Flint.
"There's an effort underway by certain casinos on the coast to stop competition and stop the growth of gaming. If they are successful in doing that, then we're going to see increased gaming taxes," Flint warned.
Obviously, the developers of the proposed gaming sites were disappointed with the ruling, but so was the mayor of Diamondhead, who said this vote was a loss of an economic engine that could have possibly come to his town.
"Well, obviously any elected official is going to entertain economic development and economic growth for their community," Mayor Tommy Schafer said. "We didn't even get to that point. In this type of development, the site approval comes first before we can even see what the project might look like."
That could still happen, because the decision can be appealed to circuit court, but not quite yet, Cavanaugh said.
"We'll go talk to them and see what we're going to do next. I don't know. We have to decide whether they want to appeal it or not," said Cavanaugh.
Word came later this afternoon from Flint that RW Development plans an immediate appeal.
Meanwhile, the commissioners had no comment on their votes, shaking their heads no when asked if they wanted to talk about the decision. They then left the room.