After a month to study the documents, the Mississippi Gaming Commission members are expected to rule Thursday on two potential casino sites in South Mississippi.
The March meeting of the Gaming Commission was moved from Jackson to Hard Rock Casino Biloxi and will begin at 9 a.m.
“Do not be swayed by old assertions, which have been tested and found lacking,” Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes said in a letter to the Gaming Commission, which will rule on the applications for site approval in Biloxi and Diamondhead. “Your predecessors showed great foresight and have left you on solid footing with grounds for rejection of what otherwise would be a violation of precedent.”
The Gaming Commission in 2008 denied RW Development’s application in Biloxi and in 2014 denied Jacobs Entertainment’s in Diamondhead. The developers reapplied for site approval after the terms expired for all the commissioners who’d ruled against their projects.
Attorneys for the developers presented arguments Feb. 16 at a hearing in D’Iberville outlining why they believe the Gaming Commission should approve their sites. Opposition to both sites was presented by Michael Bruffey, an attorney and deputy director of the Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association.
Most of the casino operators in South Mississippi attended the hearing in D’Iberville, as did Hewes, who was a state senator when HB 45 was passed following 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The bill allowed casinos in South Mississippi to build on shore.
In his letter to the Gaming Commission, dated the day after the hearing, Hewes said he felt compelled to comment.
“During yesterday’s hearing,” Hewes wrote, “there was speculation as to legislative intent with regard to the point of measurement being ‘mean high tide,’ or ‘the (toe of the) seawall.’ As a legislator at the time, I assure you, we were aiming for clarity and ease of understanding. If we had meant, ‘the seawall,’ that specific language would have appeared in statute.”
Hewes rejected the argument that changes to Gaming Commission regulations wouldn’t have any impact beyond these two sites, adding it could limit future investments.
“The greater impact would be the effect of completely changing the character of our South Mississippi community, as it would effectively open the floodgates to an indiscriminate proliferation of gaming sites to areas never contemplated or desired,” he said. “Furthermore, this cannot be about limitations on competitive opportunities, as a multitude of legal gaming sites are presently in existence and available for development.”
If we had meant, ‘the seawall,’ that specific language would have appeared in statute.
Billy Hewes, Gulfport mayor and a former state senator
Hewes said, “I remember when challenges came to the Gaming Control Act in the form of lawsuits seeking to liberally reinterpret terms such as ‘mean high tide’ and ‘navigable waters.’ And I remember that these efforts were rejected at the Supreme Court level. Anybody paying attention remembers these things, too.”
The votes on the two sites are near the end of Thursday’s agenda. Executive Director Allen Godfrey will make his recommendations before commissioners Jerry Griffith Sr., Tom Gresham and Chairman Al Hopkins vote.
Also on Thursday’s agenda are renewals for findings of suitability for Keith Crosby, general manager of Palace Casino, and for Harrah’s Gulf Coast.
Not on the agenda is the application to proceed with construction of Golden Harbor Casino in Gulfport. The developers submitted documents to the Gaming Commission earlier this month, but Godfrey said the application was incomplete.
The next meeting of the Gaming Commission will be April 20 in Jackson.