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Roth Hill casino gets go-ahead in Natchez

In early 2008, developers of a planned casino on Natchez’s Roth Hill appeared before the Mississippi Gaming Commission and got site approval for the project.

Almost four years and a few delays later, Premier Gaming Group received from the MGC at its October meeting permission to begin construction, said Allen Godfrey, the Commission’s executive director.

Receiving permission to build means Premier Gaming, a Kentucky-based casino development company that is spearheading the project, has secured financing for the $43 million project. Kevin Preston, Premier Gaming CEO, wrote in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal last week that construction started the day after the MGC lent its approval. The first step was to drive piles into the ground, he said.

“We’re anticipating a 10-month build,” Preston wrote. The casino could be open by next fall, under that timeline.

That’s a couple years after the original opening date. Premier Gaming was hired to manage the project after the original developers – Natchez Enterprises and the Lane Company – could not secure financing for the project in 2008 as the economy froze the commercial credit markets.

Plans for the casino stalled. Earlier this year, the development group re-upped on its lease of the city-owned property on Roth Hill. The company will begin making lease payments once the casino is open.

The lack of progress caused a stir among Natchez aldermen earlier this year. That group voted to notify Premier Gaming that it was not in compliance of its lease agreement with the city. Lease terms called for significant progress to be made on the project within six months of the agreement being executed in early 2008, including the company locking down financing.

The delays fostered confusion among city officials and Premier Gaming about whether the company actually held a 99-year lease on the property – as Premier Gaming claimed – or if it was merely a lease option.

Natchez  Alderman Dan Dillard told the Mississippi Business Journal earlier this year that Premier Gaming only held a lease option on the property, which had been voided because of the lack of progress on the project. Specifically, financing for the project had yet to be firmed up, as had an approval to build from the MGC.

“My side of the argument is, they didn’t provide substantial progress during the option period, so the option does not just morph into a lease,” Dillard said in February. “That’s been my concern the whole time.”

The parties brokered a deal over the summer that extended the lease-option agreement another six months while Premier Gaming worked to secure financing so it could present details to the MGC.

That agreement was about a month away from expiring when the project got MGC’s approval to proceed with construction.

Roth Hill sits on Natchez’s riverfront and is a part of the Natchez Trails project, a recreation area that winds up and down the city’s bluff highlighting Natchez’s history. The Roth Hill casino will be Natchez’s third casino, joining the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel and the Grand Soleil Casino and Resort.

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