Casinos' Tidelands Case Put On Hold

The tidelands battle between the secretary of state and two coast casinos will not go to court next month.

All four Harrison County Chancery Court judges recused themselves from the case. So a court administrator is looking for a new judge to determine whether Imperial Palace and Treasure Bay are paying too much for their tidelands leases.

If the casinos and Secretary of State Eric Clark can't agree on a judge, the state Supreme Court will assign somebody to hear the case.

The tidelands lease money collected by the secretary of state is used by the Department of Marine Resources .

Clark was at Gulfport's Moses Pier Wednesday to hand over the annual rent check. Clark and a handful of state lawmakers gave the DMR $5.2 million. Clark said most of that money came from tidelands leases paid by eight of the 12 coast casinos.

"With budgets tight," Clark said, "there's likely to be talk in the legislature of taking that money and putting it in the state's general fund. But my position has always been the money has been collected on the Gulf Coast. It needs to stay on the Gulf Coast, and it does a world of good here."

The 2002 tidelands lease money will pay for 28 pier and harbor projects in the three coastal counties.