D’Iberville casino approved; Diamondhead site rejected

Drawing of Scarlet Pearl casino, which was given financing approval by the Mississippi Gaming Commission on June 26.

Drawing of Scarlet Pearl casino, which was given financing approval by the Mississippi Gaming Commission on June 26.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast is gaining one casino, but a second casino proposal was denied by the Mississippi Gaming Commission at its monthly meeting last week 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 said June 26. “We plan to start work tomorrow 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 minimum 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 casino would be located to the west of Yacht Club Road and south of Interstate 10.

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

“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 whether or not it meet requirements of the 800-foot rule. After Hurricane Katrina, the Legislature allowed casinos to move their operations inland, as long as they operated within 800 feet of the shoreline.

The gaming commission opinion states that Paradise Bayou is connected to the Bay of St. Louis by a manmade canal, and that the shoreline of the bay is to the south of the marshland, putting it almost a mile south of the casino site. The shoreline designation agrees with a shoreline cited by the DMR.

Counter opinions by Thompson Engineering and other experts said, according to scientific and 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. They contend the shoreline should Paradise Bayou on the north side of the marshland.

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