Opposition mounts for plans to allow many more casino sites from Biloxi to Waveland

The Mississippi Gaming Commission meets Thursday morning in Jackson and on the agenda is a proposal to change the regulations and allow casino expansion in many locations along the Coast and bays where they have not been permitted to build.

Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann went on the record Wednesday opposed to the change that would virtually eliminate $10 million a year in tideland leases except those already in force. Tideland payments are used to build piers, parks and other waterfront projects across South Mississippi.

Adding their objections Wednesday were Rep. Richard Bennett, R-Long Beach, chairman of the House Gaming Committee, and the Mississippi Gaming & Hospitality Association, which represents casinos across the state.

In a letter to the Gaming Commission Wednesday, Bennett requested the Gaming Commission not adopt the proposed changes until after the Legislature reconvenes in January and can take action.

“Gaming operators in the state have relied upon the accurate and reasonable interpretation of MCA 97-33-1 for many years, and to unreasonably depart from that long held interpretation and render the contiguous language meaningless would harm the members of the industry who have been subject to the contiguous requirement and damage the trust of the industry moving forward,” Bennett said.

Al Hopkins, Gaming Commission chairman, said the changes will bring casino regulations in line with the law, HB 45 that was adopted after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 to allow the casinos to come ashore.

The change would eliminate the requirement that a developer own the property all the way to the water. That would allow casinos north of U.S. 90 even if the developer doesn’t allow property on the south side. The highway is excluded from the 800-foot distance from the water.

The public will have 25 days from Thursday’s meeting to comment on the changes with the Gaming Commission.

Bennett said elected representatives should be the ones to clarify the law, “… before a serious departure to the rules is enacted and irreparable harm might be done to the reputation of the Mississippi gaming industry, laws, regulations and commission.”

The Sun Herald will update this article.

Mary Perez: 228-896-2354, @MaryPerezSH

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