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New casinos add to Greenville’s economy

Greenville — This Mississippi River city and Washington County now have two casinos, which netted the city nearly $1.7 million in revenue during the 2005 fiscal year.

During the same period, the city and county also realized another $2 million in ad valorem taxes, which went to support the school districts in the county as well as various city and county budget line items.

Already this fiscal year, the city has taken in $1,690,969 from casino revenue from just two casinos.
All that is good news for a local economy somewhat depressed from plant closings and the loss of jobs over the past five years.

While the casino industry is not a panacea for economic development, it has made a difference in a regional Delta economy primarily still based on agriculture.

So while the Bayou Caddy Jubilee Casino and the Lighthouse Point Casino, both located in downtown Greenville on the city’s Lake Ferguson waterfront, enjoy the exclusivity of the gaming market, change is on the way.

Expanding market?

Two new casino operations have already been approved by the Mississippi Gaming Commission and plans recently announced heralding more upscale casino offerings in what appears to be an expanding gaming market for the mid-Mississippi Delta, Southern Arkansas and Northeastern Louisiana.

Work is already under way on the Delta Blues Casino and convention center on the former Chicago Mills industrial site on the north edge of downtown Greenville. And the Bali Hai Casino Resort, located next to the new U.S. 82 bridge under construction over the Mississippi River, has already removed trees, moved dirt and started piling work.

And yet a possible fifth casino project, to be located on property next to Superior Boat Works in the Greenville harbor front area, is waiting to go before the Mississippi Gaming Commission for approval.

Officials with the Delta Blues Casino, LLC project joined city and other community leaders May 8 to break ground on the 34,000-square-foot Greenville Convention Events Center and Museum.

This convention center and museum is the land-based operation for the yet-to-be started casino to be located across the levee on Lake Ferguson.

The facility will be a full-service convention and meeting facility, which will include a 12,000 square foot exhibit hall with a stage area, meeting rooms and a pre-function area for up to 1,600 participants.

Bali Hai Resort and Casino

The Bali Hai Resort and Casino project, which is located in the county, will add to Washington County’s casino offerings in a spectacular way.

Officials with SW Gaming, LLC, out of Cincinnati, Ohio, owners and developers of the project, have been given final approval for new site plans by the Mississippi Gaming Commission, which will create a resort mecca with easy access to the bridge and traffic from Arkansas and Louisiana.
Work is already under way to begin now that financing has been put in place for the project expected to cost between $65 million to $70 million.

Plans call for construction to be completed on the site before the U.S. 82 bridge is completed in 2007.

The Bali Hai project, showcasing art deco-style architecture, will feature a 33,000-square-foot gaming area (casino) and restaurant, a 2,500-seat showroom for entertainment, plus a 130-room, five-story hotel.

The hotel complex will satisfy the state’s requirement for a land-based facility to complement the casino.

“I think it’s going to be a home run at that location,” said Domeric Mezzetta, currently a consultant on the project.

Mezzetta will soon take over as vice president and general manager for Bali Hai after a non-compete clause expires.

Richard Schilling, CEO of SW Gaming, LLC, is “excited about the Greenville market. It’s underserved and we know we can do a lot there by bringing in more people to the area with what we will be offering.”

Mezzetta, however, is no stranger to either Greenville or the casino industry.

“They called me about the Bali Hai project and Greenville. I wasn’t really interested in the Greenville area, but after they explained what they were going to do, I thought this was an absolutely excellent location for a casino,” said Mezzetta.

With a new interstate-level bridge, access to three states within 30 miles of the casino and about 2.5 million vehicles crossing the Mississippi River at Greenville in a year’s time, “what better place to put a project like we’ve envisioned it,” he added.

With the Jubilee Casino and Lighthouse Point Casinos already in operation and the Delta Blues Casino breaking ground on its new property in downtown Greenville, is there room for another casino in the Greenville market?

“Absolutely,” said Mezzetta. “Greenville has been underserved for a long time. We will bring a new look, a new style and a new approach to gaming and entertainment. We are a community-minded and community-spirited group.”

“I think so as long as they are marketed and people come from outside the area,” said Greenville City Clerk Tommie Jefcoat.

With the problems casinos faced along the Mississippi Gulf Coast because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the Mississippi Gaming Commission has now allowed for some design changes in casino land-based operations.

“They will now allow Coast casinos to be built on land where they used to be required to be on barges in the water. This change for the Coast casinos put river counties with casinos at a disadvantage and made us look like second-class citizens. Now the gaming commission has allowed, at the project’s discretion, casinos to be built on piers with pilings.

“So we’ve changed our design plans and changed our casino operation from the barges we had planned to one now to be built on piers. That levels the playing field and makes for a better operation,” said Mezzetta.

The company also has optioned another 200 acres of land south of the Bali Hai area for a future golf course.

When it comes to the showroom, Mezzetta said the Bali Hai facility “will be able to compete with the Tunica market. People from around the Delta will be able to come here and see national acts at least once a month and several other performances throughout the week.”

And until the U.S. 82 bridge and approaches are completed, patrons will be able to access the Bali Hai property “by the old bridge where there will be a turn lane off the highway. But people will already know where we are and how to get there,” Mezzetta said.

Once construction begins, Mezzetta said it would “take 12 to 14 months to complete the project and we could be open by June 2007.”

Delta Blues Casino

As for the Delta Blues Casino, “this is an exciting day for Greenville and for this project,” said Jack Newton, general manger for the Delta Blues Casino, who was on hand for the groundbreaking ceremony. “We are excited to be here for this groundbreaking, which has been a long time coming.”

Newton is also no stranger to casino operations or Greenville as he was the general manager of the now closed Las Vegas Casino when it started up in the early 1990s.

Newton said that the convention center “will be a class operation and facility, which will complement what’s going on in downtown Greenville. We will have a facility that will be accessible to everyone.”

“This is a great day from Greenville and we’re glad the Delta Blues Casino will be coming soon,” said Greenville Mayor Heather Hudson. “This facility will add so much to what we’re trying to do in downtown Greenville.”

“We wanted to go ahead with this land-based development so we could show we are serious about the project and our commitment to Greenville,” said Newton.

Good news for city, county

With the addition of two new casinos — one in the city and the other in the county — coming on line within a year, what does this mean for the fiscal health of the local economy?

“It means more tax revenue and that can only be good news for the city and county,” said Jefcoat. “We could double our tax revenue, which means we could do more things in the city than what we are able to do right now.”

Jefcoat cautions that the added revenue will only come by bringing in more people to the city and county rather just local folks going to the casinos. “There’s only so much local money to go around. So we’re hoping that the new casinos will bring new people here to spend money.”

“What it means is more tax dollars for the city and county and employing 300 to 400 people who will probably spend their pay checks in the area. That means more sales tax revenue and support for local businesses,” said Schilling.

Contact MBJ contributing writer David Lush at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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