In the past, casino gaming has been allowed to take place along the coast of Mississippi, but is restricted to those who have properties that border the waterfront. Recently, regulators in the state have been considering changes to casino gaming regulations to allow venues to be created along the coast in areas where waterfront property is not a factor. On Thursday of last week, the State Gaming Commission backed off from considering such changes as existing casino operators and legislators, including the governor, were not happy with the proposed changes.
The three gaming commissioners did not have much to say on the matter this past Thursday, including why they were thinking about making a change to the rules to allow casino gaming to be extended to sites where the property does not touch the water. The change would actually have been in violation with current laws that prohibit casinos from being built on land not associated with the waterfront. The law was actually changed after the coast casino industry was destroyed due to Hurricane Katrina.
Commissioners referred any questions on the matter to Allen Godfrey, the Gaming Commission Director, on Thursday who stated that the commissioners will not go down this road or have chosen to leave the regulation as it stands. However, this does not mean that the commissioners are not considering introducing the change again at a later date. Governor Phil Bryant appointed the current commissioners and is opposed to the change in regulations, a likely reason why the commissioners dropped the idea.
Clay Chandler is a spokesman for Governor Bryant who stated that the governor strongly opposes any regulatory or statutory changes that would expand gaming in the state. Also in opposition of the rule change was the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association. This group represents the casinos that currently exist along the coast.
After the Hurricane Katrina devastation in 2005, officials were afraid that the casino industry would not rebuild if they were forced to remain on floating barges as these venues are susceptible to hurricane conditions. Losing the casino industry would be devastating on many levels including job loss as well as the local and state economy.
Legislation was then proposed that would allow casinos to be built on land that was located within 800 feet of the water, which was not including beach highway. The bill passed during a special session after long debates and once lawmakers were able to assure that such gaming properties would have to include water bottoms and tidelands. Basically, this limited operators to areas that were suitable before the storm.
Caveats were included in regulations once the new law had been passed that saw two casino projects turned down as the operator would not have had control or ownership of a property that bordered the water. However, the new Gaming Commissioners, Al Hopkins, Thomas Gresham and Jerry Griffith Sr. seem to be interpreting the law in a different manner. The three said the proposal to change the regulations would bring the regulations in line with the law.
House Gaming Committee Chairman Richard Bennett sent a letter to the commissioners on Wednesday stating that he believes the plain language of the law already requires casino properties to include tidelands. Bennett urged the commissioners not to adopt a rule change and said that they should wait at least until after lawmakers convene in January to see that legislature makes it known that casinos should be located on waterfront property.