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Gaming law is growing legal specialty in the Magnolia State

Gaming law is a relatively new and small section of the Mississippi Bar Association, but the rapid growth of the state’s gaming industry since 1992 has opened this field of law to attorneys.

Jackson attorneys Scott Andress and Danny McDaniel now devote all of their time to gaming law. Both say they like it very much.

“The people are fascinating, it’s a fast-moving and regulatory-dependent industry. It’s high pressure but exciting,” said McDaniel of the Phelps Dunbar legal firm. “It’s a very enjoyable law practice.”

He says it would be ineffective to practice gaming law part time because the pace of the industry requires immediacy and complete access to legal counsel.

“That’s extremely important if you’re a gaming attorney,” McDaniel added. “I may have conferences at 10 p.m. and calls at 2 a.m.”

He coordinates his firm’s entire gaming practice in Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida and Texas. With 285 lawyers, Phelps Dunbar has gaming associates in each state, and McDaniels says gaming law is a substantial part of the firm’s practice.

“It’s a fabulous practice. I made an early decision to devote my practice to gaming law, and it was a good decision,” McDaniel said.

Andress graduated from Tulane University Law School the same year gaming began in Mississippi. Because his law school emphasis was in environmental law and casinos have environmental concerns, he joined the Balch & Bingham firm in Gulfport to work in that area of law. Based in Birmingham, Ala., the firm also has offices in Washington, Atlanta and Jackson.

He says working with casino companies on environmental issues took over his practice and led to other phases of gaming law. In 1997, he transferred to Balch & Bingham’s Jackson office to make it easier to attend State Gaming Commission meetings.

“I enjoy gaming law,” Andress said. “It’s varied work and the clientele and regulators are top notch.”

Although there are just a handful of lawyers practicing gaming law now, he thinks graduates will soon come out of law school intending to follow that practice.

Andress and McDaniel have high praise for the state’s gaming regulators and laws.

“We’ve done it right in Mississippi and the regulators are fair,” Andress said.

McDaniel said, “In terms of gaming regulations, Mississippi is well respected in the rest of the country. It’s important to realize that while there are attorneys in other states with large gaming practices, those doing it here have as much experience and it’s as varied as anywhere.”

He feels the regulations, modeled after those used in Nevada, are fine but the statutes need updating due to the evolution of the industry here.

“We have had success with gaming in Mississippi because there is no limit on the number of licenses, the regulatory climate has been consistent and because of the tax structure,” McDaniel said.

University of Mississippi law school associate dean Ron Rychlak began teaching a course in gaming law five years ago. He did gaming law work in private practice in Chicago and researched and co-published a textbook, “Gaming Law: Cases and Materials.”

“When the industry blossomed here, I felt some proprietary interest in offering this class,” he said. “It’s a significant area of practice.”

The associate dean said he made contact with the state Attorney General’s Office and got a favorable opinion to teach the class. “The students seem to love it and the Bar has been supportive,” he said. “It’s an exciting area and time to be involved in it.”

The State Gaming Commission has held meetings in Oxford to allow law students to attend and observe what they do. Rychlak has also had attorneys who practice gaming law as guest lecturers for students. According to dean Jim Rosenblatt, the Mississippi College School of Law does not offer a seminar in gaming law. “Gaming law combines a number of disciplines — regulatory, tax and business law — that we do teach,” he said.

Plenty of other issues, too

The Mississippi Bar’s Gaming Law Section includes attorneys representing gaming operators, equipment manufacturers, gaming patrons, vendors and suppliers to the industry.

Andress represents International Gaming Technology (IGT), the world’s largest manufacturer of slot machines, along with gaming companies’ institutional investors and landowners. He helps gaming companies get site permits — the sites always being on water in keeping with state law and that sometimes involves sensitive wetlands issues. He works with them on other environmental and transactional concerns, litigation and finance during construction.

“Once they’re up and running, there are other concerns such as labor, employment, patron disputes and personal injury,” he said. Andress points out that some casinos have on-property counsel, some rely on counsel at corporate headquarters and some use outside counsel like him. He says there is no overlap of service.

McDaniel also represents a variety of gaming industry interests, including the largest single taxpayer in Japan, an individual who purchased a gaming-related manufacturing company in the U.S. He says manufacturers of gaming equipment tend to be more international than the operational side of gaming.

Involved with gaming since the first gaming boat sailed out of state waters for gaming activity, McDaniel says a lawyer must understand gaming to represent gaming companies. He does a lot of regulatory work; something he feels is the most crucial aspect to gaming companies.

The wide range of knowledge needed to practice gaming law also includes litigation, securities and financial transactions involving stocks and bonds. McDaniel brings in other firm partners who specialize in different things.

He often represents people who are going through the legal process of casino ownership. Out of 200 individuals represented over the past eight years, there was only one time that any alleged tie to organized crime surfaced, and that was someone who had only been close to it, not actually connected.

“The background checks are extensive so that sort of thing would be caught,” McDaniel said.

McDaniel serves as secretary-treasurer of the International Association of Gaming Attorneys (IAGA) and will move up to the vice president office and after that serve as president. It will be the first time someone from the South has been president.

“It will be a labor of love,” he said. “IAGA is the premier organization for education of gaming attorneys and has about 400 members.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

About Lynn Lofton

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