Approves Shoreline Casinos For Katrina Devastated Gulf Coast
In what is surely a historic time in Mississippi, the Mississippi Senate Monday approved a measure to allow the Coast's casinos to build on land, this to help stimulate rebuilding of the $500 million a day industry devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
But as of Tuesday evening, the bill had not reached the governor. Reportedly, 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 Senate's approval followed approval of a similar bill last week in the Mississippi house. The governor, in a statewide broadcast Monday, said he will sign the measure, which should 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 Governor Haley 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.
The bill did tighten where casinos can go in the future. The measure defined where casinos in the state can be built to only those counties that have voted in the past for casinos. This means that counties, such as Jackson County, would find it hard to get casinos approved as such actions would required legislative action and a local referendum, steps that could prove impossible to overcome.
With the governor's signature on the legislation, many people feel 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.
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.