Mississippi Gaming Commission Faces Far-reaching Decision on Biloxi, Diamondhead Casinos

Posted on: February 13, 2017, 05:15h. 

Last updated on: February 13, 2017, 05:05h.

In Mississippi, two casino companies are anxiously awaiting a gaming commission decision on whether their proposals, earmarked for beachfront plots in Biloxi and nearby Diamondhead, will be approved for construction.

Jacob’s Entertainment’s casino proposal, Diamondhead, Mississippi
An artist’s rendering of the proposed casino in Diamondhead which was refused permission in 2014 on a technicality. The land is located on a man-made canal and not the Bay of St Louis. (Image: Jacobs Entertainment)

Approval could have far-reaching implications for southern Mississippi, and detractors say it could open the area and its beaches up for extensive casino development, which was never the intention the law.

The developers, RW Development and Jacobs Entertainment, have been here before. Way back in 2008, RW Development lost its bid to build a casino in Biloxi, while, in 2014, Colorado-based Jacobs was refused permission to proceed with its Diamonhead project.

Both companies, at the time, vowed to contest the decisions vigorously, but instead of challenging through the courts, they chose to wait until three new commissioners had been appointed in the hope that they might look more favorably on their applications.

The three-man commission vote must be unanimous for the projects to proceed.

Testing the Water

The developers lost their original applications because of a rule that states a developer must own or control land all the way to the water, in this case, the Bay of St Louis.

In RW Development’s case, there was just a thin strip of public beach between the end of RW’s land and the water. Jacobs’ application, meanwhile, was deemed not to be on the Bay of St Louis at all, but on a man-made canal.

RW’s lawyers have argued that the water’s edge should be defined as the sea wall, but John Hairston, one of the gaming commissioners who denied the original application, said that such a definition would unleash a “a proliferation of casinos” that would “go beyond what the Legislature intended when it allowed onshore casinos after Hurricane Katrina.”

Defining Ruling

It’s a sentiment that is echoed by other area casinos. The Mississippi Gaming and Hospitality Association, which represents casinos throughout the state wrote to the commission last week suggesting there is no good reason to alter the initial decisions.

“The law has not changed, the legislative intent has not changed, the applicants are the same, the proposed sites are the same and the decisions of the commission should be reaffirmed,” Larry Gregory, executive director of the MGHA said in the letter.

“How the commission reacts to these applications has implications beyond just these two properties,” he said.

The commission is scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the finer points of sea walls and high water lines. A decision, which the Sun Herald has described as “one of the defining rulings of 25 years of casinos in Mississippi” is expected in March.