Mississippi Secretary Scolds State Supreme Court Over Biloxi Tidelands

Posted on: January 24, 2024, 10:04h. 

Last updated on: February 25, 2024, 11:51h.

Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson (R) is criticizing the state Supreme Court for its decision last year regarding a tidelands lease in Biloxi.

Mississippi casino Biloxi tidelands
Mississippi Secretary of State Michael Watson believes the state Supreme Court erred in allowing Biloxi to issue a pier development contract on state controlled tidelands without first gaining approval from the state. The March 2023 ruling clears the way for a new casino resort on the Gulf Coast. (Image: WLOX)

Last March, the Mississippi Supreme Court said Biloxi local officials had the legal authority to contract a private company to build a new pier with handicapped accessible capabilities. The Harrison County Board of Supervisors and the City of Biloxi agreed with RW Development to construct the $3 million pier.

RW Development isn’t dolling out $3 million to help handicapped people venture down to the Gulf simply out of the goodness of the company’s heart, but instead has ulterior motives. Gaining control of the tidelands at the southeast corner of Beach Boulevard at Veterans Avenue will allow the company to pursue gaming on the property.

RW Development has been seeking to build a casino resort in Biloxi for 15 years. The Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC) has repeatedly voted against the project because RW Development’s parcel, located on the northwest corner of the Beach Blvd./Veterans Ave. intersection, was too far inland. Mississippi’s gaming statute permits land-based casinos so long as the gaming floors remain within 800 feet of the Gulf’s mean high-water line.

By securing the pier development and vacant property, RW Development can build a casino space on the land and its resort where it originally intended.

State Secretary Issues Rebuttal

Watson says the Biloxi casino project county and city officials agreed to and signed off on by state gaming regulators reeks of dirty politics.

This latest episode of the RW Development saga reeks more of politics than a legal development,” Watson declared in comments first reported by the Magnolia Tribune.

Watson said he “firmly” disagreed with the state Supreme Court decision that ruled Biloxi didn’t need state approval for the pier project, despite it being constructed on tidelands that the state controls. But “as an elected official and lawyer, I will follow the law regardless of whether I believe the Supreme Court’s decision was ill-conceived.”

The state official said he was surprised that the MGC last month signed off on the casino’s site approval application.

The Court held the City of Biloxi could build a replacement pier without a new lease from the State, solely allowing the rebuilding of a public pier. The Commissioners decided the simple existence of the original lease to rebuild a public pier was sufficient to give RW Development private opportunities on the public sand beach and to grant the very site approval that had three times been disallowed, yet now ‘meets all statutory regulatory requirements,'” Watson said.

“As the legislatively delegated trustee agent for the State’s Public Trust Tidelands and a Gulf Coast native, I strive to protect the Trust and ensure its benefit to all Mississippians, and the RW Development situation is no different,” Watson concluded.

Casino Plan TBD

RW Development has yet to unveil specifics about the scope of the casino resort it hopes to build in Biloxi. The company is led by local businessman Ray Wooldridge.

The MGC’s site approval provides RW with three years to submit its blueprint and have the project fully approved by state and local regulators.