Gaming Commission Denies South Beach Site - - The News for South Mississippi

Gaming Commission Denies South Beach Site

BILOXI (WLOX) -- It's being called a major economic blow to Biloxi. But it's also being hailed as a major victory for beach lovers.

The Mississippi Gaming Commission ruled Thursday that RW Development does not have a legal gaming site. Consequently, the billion dollar South Beach Casino Resort at the foot of Veterans Avenue and Highway 90 is on life support.

"I'm going to make a motion here that the application be denied," Gaming Commission Chairman Jerry St. Pe' said after an hour and a half lunch break. He made that motion after listening to three hours of public comments about the legality of the RW Development gaming site.

Tom Brosig was one of the 24 people who spoke on behalf of the project.

"The approval of this site will be a major step in achieving this community's goal of becoming a tier one tourist destination," the former casino executive told gaming regulators.

But a dozen opponents said not so fast.

"I'm of the opinion that it's a public beach. And we can't give the public beach away," a Biloxi woman testified.

For the last month, gaming commissioners have poured over research documents pertaining to the RW project and whether it should be linked to the water's edge. The company's plan was to take advantage of the 800 foot rule, and put its casino on the north side of Highway 90. It felt it could do that because it owned commercial land south of 90 up to the seawall.

But, gaming commissioners ruled that site violated Mississippi's on shore gaming laws.

"The definition of the seawall as the shore would open up proliferation concerns amongst the citizens of this county to the extent that I believe we would have gone far beyond what we originally intended," Gaming Commissioner John Hairston said.

All three gaming commissioners rejected the RW Development site.

"Well we're certainly disappointed," RW owner Ray Woolridge said. "It was somewhat of a surprise to us. So we have to have an opportunity to go over that decision and some of the rationale for it."

Biloxi's mayor called the gaming commission vote disappointing, because it would slow down the city's recovery, especially in west Biloxi.

Woolridge, who's invested $100 million in the Biloxi market the last four years, tried to remain upbeat about his company's sudden predicament at the corner of Veterans Avenue and Highway 90.

When asked if the ruling soured him at all on the community, Woolridge replied, "Not at all. I'm just disappointed with the decision. I thought we had a good plan. I thought we presented it well."

One of his attorneys said the decision was an example of the gaming commission doing what it was supposed to do. It set a policy for gaming development in south Mississippi. But in this instance, the RW attorney grumbled that policy had a very negative impact. In his opinion, It restricted future gaming development everywhere.

RW Development can appeal the denial to a district court, and then to the Supreme Court. Attorneys said that decision would likely be made next week, after everybody had a chance to digest the gaming commission's decision.

By Brad Kessie

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