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D'Iberville casino approved; Diamondhead site rejected

Drawing of Scarlet Pearl casino, which given financing approval by the Mississippi Gaming Commission on Thursday.

Drawing of Scarlet Pearl casino, which given financing approval by the Mississippi Gaming Commission on Thursday.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is gaining one casino, but a second casino proposal was denied by the Mississippi Gaming Commission at its monthly meeting Thursday in Jackson.

After receiving approval for its financing plan, Land Holdings 1 was given the okay to begin construction on the Scarlet Pearl casino, which will be located east of Interstate 110 on the Back Bay in D’Iberville. D’Iberville has tried for 22 years to attract a casino. Land Holdings 1, has spent about four years trying to pull together the project.

“It’s been a long and winding road,” said Land Holdings 1 CEO George Toth. “We plan to start work Friday morning. We hope to have it completed in 18 months before New Year’s 2016 — because you don’t open a new casino after New Year’s Eve.”

Some dirt work has already been done at the site for the $250 million, 300-room project. Work on pilings should begin about July 7, and a formal groundbreaking is planned for mid-July.

Regulations adopted last year by the Gaming Commission require new casinos meet minimium specifications – which Scarlet Pearl does — and bring a new amenity to the area. Scarlet Pearl plans to meet that requirement with an “world-class 36-hole miniature golf course that includes a volcano and water features,” said Randall A. Fine, managing director of the Find Point Group, a gaming management and consultant group representing the casino.

The news was different for Diamondhead.

After hearing more than an hour of testimony, the commission unanimously approved executive director Alan Godfrey’s proposal to deny Jacobs Entertainment’s request for site approval for a casino in an area of Diamondhead known as Paradise Bayou.

The commission, however, cited a lack of documentation from the Department of Marine Resources, and left the door open for Jacobs to reapply.

“Our experts are going to go out and try to meet their requirements,” said Dan McDaniel, an attorney with Baker Donelson, who represented Jacobs Entertainment. “I disagree with their decision, but they were fair and they suggested what we ought to do if we want to get their vote. “We’re down, but we’re not out.”

At issue is the Bay of St. Louis shoreline, and does it meet requirements of the 800-foot rule, which allowed casinos destroyed by Hurricane Katrina to move their operations inland, within 800 feet of the shore.

An opinion by DMR director Jamie Miller said the site isn’t part of the Bay of St. Louis because of the marsh nearby is actually land and not part of the bay.

Opinions by DMR, which was cited by the commission, led to the ruling that the site was illegal. Counter opinions by Thompson Engineering and other experts said, according to industry standards set forth by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Mississippi’s Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks that the site should be legal.

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