State panel OKs 3 casino projects totaling $500M - Tuesday 12th of July 2005

The Mississippi Gaming Commission on Friday approved three casino projects with a total capital investment of more than $500 million.

The proposed casinos could create 2,400 jobs in Vicksburg and 2,000 jobs in Biloxi.

Dan McDaniel, a gaming lawyer involved in two of the projects, said jobs created by the gaming industry are without any incentives from state government, McDaniel said.

"Gaming developers want two things: a fair tax rate and a stable regulatory and political environment," he said. "Thats all the industry needs."

Warren County Supervisor Richard George said jobs without tax incentives given to business represent true growth. "You havent had to give up anything to acquire them," he said.

The Gaming Commission received an update on a $150 million capital investment at the existing Ameristar Casino Hotel in Vicksburg. It could mean an additional 300 jobs at the Vicksburg casino.

Ray Neilsen, general manager of Ameristar, said plans are to add a 300-room hotel with spa, pool and expanded banquet facilities and a parking garage for 1,100 vehicles. Casino renovations include adding a poker room and a VIP lounge, upgrading kitchen equipment and one of the restaurants, and expanding the gift shop.

The new hotel is expected to be luxurious enough to be designated a AAA Four Diamond facility, Neilsen said. Beau Rivage Resort & Casino in Biloxi and Palace Casino Resort in Biloxi have that designation.

Neilsen said the project should get under way next week with the addition of a mansard roof to the existing hotel.

Ameristar, which is a publicly traded company that operates seven properties, chose to upgrade the Vicksburg property partly because of Mississippis business-friendly climate for gaming companies and improvements in downtown Vicksburg, Neilsen said.

The commission also approved a site north of the existing Rainbow Hotel Casino for the proposed Magnolia Hill Resort and Pot of Gold Casino, giving developers two years to open the casino.

Pot of Gold is a $41 million project that includes a casino with 800 slots and 20 table games and a hotel with observation deck to take advantages of views of the Mississippi River. It would employ 500 people.

John A. Barrett Jr. of Shawnee, Okla., a principal in Pot of Gold, said he expects Pot of Gold to open "eight or nine months from now." Barrett was a principal in Rainbow Casino when it opened in 1993.

John Maxey, a Jackson lawyer involved with the project, said the developers plan to seek investors but they have "the wherewithal to construct the casino."

Developers also must secure permits and approvals from the city of Vicksburg and have the commission approve development plans and give it the authority to proceed with construction, Maxey said.

The commission also approved plans for a $200 million to $225 million as-yet unnamed casino project in Vicksburg by Lakes Gaming Mississippi.

The project, proposed for a site south of the I-20 bridge, would include a casino with 1,500 slots, 40 table games and a 15-table poker room, as well as an eight-story hotel with 400 rooms. A glass elevator outside the hotel would lead to a seafood restaurant and nightclub atop the hotel.

The Lakes Gaming casino would employ1,900 people. Construction should start in January and the casino should open a year later, said Lyle Berman, chairman and chief executive officer of Lakes Entertainment Inc. based in Minneapolis.

Berman was a principal in the founding of Grand Casinos Inc., which in less than five years opened eight casino resorts in four states, including locations in Biloxi, Gulfport and Tunica.

The commission also approved plans for the Havana Casino Resort in Biloxi, a $235 million project. The site is north of New Palace Casino.

The resort would include a 20-story hotel with 500 rooms; a 60,000-square-foot casino with 1,600 slot machines and 43 table games; a buffet, coffee shop and three additional restaurants; and a 1,500-seat theater, nightclub, recording studio and wedding chapel. It would employ 2,000 people.

McDaniel, who is involved in the Lakes Gaming project and Havana Casino, said both projects have financing.

Developers plan to start construction in September and open by New Years Eve 2006. "This is fast track construction," said Joe Manno of Las Vegas-based Onnam Entertainment.

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