Mississippi Casino Developers Receive A Blow

A long-standing fight between two casino developers to build resorts on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, in Biloxi and Louis Bay, received a blow this week.

Had the two casinos approved by Special Circuit Court Judge Christopher Schmidt, the decision could have had a transformative effect on the Gulf Coast gaming market and the area overall, potentially opening up the beach to extensive casino development.

But instead the judge upheld the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s rulings that, due to the specifics of their locations, neither proposal qualified for site approval.

There is a state gaming law at issue that allowed casinos to arrive 800 feet onshore. After Hurricane Katrina, the legislation was enacted to prevent the devastation of gaming businesses being destroyed by future storms.. The law stipulates that no more than 800 feet of properties can be built inland, but the developer still has to own the land right up to the edge of the water.

The crux of the argument for denying permission to the RW Development project, in Biloxi, and the Diamondhead Real Estate project, in St Louis Bay, lies with the definition of precisely where the 800-foot measurement starts at an ebbing, flowing water body.

RW claimed that it had measured 800 feet from the seawall, the mean level of high tide being calculated by it. But the gaming commission insists that the measurement should be made using the official coastline, the Public Trust Tidelands Boundary Line, not the seawall.

The gaming commission also argues that RW does not own the land all the way up to the water because between its land and the sea there is a strip of public beach.

Similarly, in the case of the Diamondhead project, the commission reported that the “water edge” used for the calculation was in fact  a man-made canal and there were actually several hundred feet of salt marsh between the site and the coastline of St. Louis Bay.

The commission initially rejected RW’s project in 2008 and again, twice, in 2017, together with the Diamondhead project.

The developers argued that the decision was protectionist and designed to protect against competition the existing regional casino industry.

A Sun Herald report states that during a hearing back in September. RW lawyer Gerald Blessey said the commission was “not absolute power” and should “check and balance” his decision.

Yet Schmidt dismissed the claim that the commission was biassed against new casinos, finding that it had acted correctly and according to the laws of state gaming.

“The Gaming Commission’s decision was supported by ample evidence and was not arbitrary or capricious,” he said.

The developers did not say if they would appeal the decision.