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Legislative Actions Stall Movement on Casinos on Land Bill
by Keith Burton - GulfCoastNews.com
Filed 10/6/05

The bill passed Monday to allow Mississippi's Coastal casinos to operate on land has been stalled in the state legislature. Some state lawmakers want to be sure to protect the Tidelands Lease program, which casinos pay for leasing waterfront property from the state. The Tidelands program provides nearly $7-million dollars a year for coastal-related projects and is administered by the Mississippi Secretary of State. The current debate is over a 1-percent Tidelands tax for the casinos to pay.

The stalled casino legislation has upset many area leaders and casino operators who feel that politics are being played out on the backs of the Gulf Coast residents and casino operators. It is believed that the bill will eventually be released with changes in the Tidelands regulations. But many feel that those responsible for the delay need to move forward to help get the casino industry back on its feet.

Thursday, Governor Haley Barbour said he opposes what he sees as a 1-percent additional tax on casinos during a time a crisis.

The governor, in a statewide broadcast Monday, said he will sign the land-based casinos bill, which was expected to reach his desk for a signature this week.

"This will allow the Coast's casinos to build world-class resorts and get them back up as quickly as possible," said Barbour.

The bill will allow Harrison and Hancock counties that already have gaming to allow  casinos to build on land within 800 feet of the shoreline. Gaming industry experts say this will enable insurance for casinos and encourage new investors that will be needed to revitalize the industry and insure its future on the Mississippi Coast. The bill also permits casinos to use their existing ballrooms in their hotels, which are on land, as temporary casinos, to help get them back on their feet as quickly as possible.

Whenever the new land-based legislation is approved, many people believe that the Mississippi Coast is primed to see major real estate development including new hotels, restaurants, shopping centers and housing. This will surely change the character and future of the Coast, which from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, looked truly bleak.

Already, coastal governments and schools are running out of money over the loss of tax revenues, including casino taxes, property taxes and reduced sales taxes. Everyday that the casinos remain closed costs the state nearly $500,000. Before the hurricane, the Coast casinos employed over 17,000 people, all of which are currently out of work. The loss of tax revenues from the hurricane are ruining county and city budgets, with result likely to be layoff of city and county employees at a time when they are needed most.

The new land-based casinos will also be welcomed in Hancock County, which suffered catastrophic losses as developers will see that county as also a prime location for redevelopment and speed that county's recovery.

The bill does not automatically mean that casinos can be constructed everywhere on the beach. In Biloxi and Gulfport, zoning regulations define where the casinos can be built. There is also the fact that much of the beach is off-limits as the public owns the beach. In addition, the casinos will have to have property rights that extend to the water, which is limited to certain portions of the beach where such property rights exist. Zoning regulations would have to be changed for casinos to be constructed where none were before.

The new regulations also mean that the speed of the recovery of  the casino industry  and much of the Coast is likely to be accelerated.

The impact of this new legislation is forecast to have a greater effect on the future of the Mississippi Coast than the first approval of gaming in the early 1990's.

More Information:

State Senate and House Members to Seek Compromise on Tidelands Bills, Casino on Land Measure Still Held Hostage - Clarion Ledger - 10/6/05

Coast Casinos See New Tidelands Bill as a Tax Increase - Sun Herald - 10/6/05
Allowing Coast Casinos to be on Land Hailed by Coast Leaders - Sun Herald
Onshore Gaming Bill Going to Governor - Clarion Ledger
Mississippi Hurricane Katrina Recovery - Governor's Office

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