The devastation of the Gulf Coast gambling industry caused by Hurricane Katrina could sway legislators in Mississippi to consider allowing land-based casinos, and could repeal laws that put them on the surface in vulnerable places.
“I think this will be a public policy question that will appeal to all legislators when they attend their next meeting,” said Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission. “The debate will be the first issue in this legislative cycle. It will definitely put the fire under their feet.”
Gregory said Wednesday that more than half of the 13 casinos in Biloxi, Gulfport and St. Louis were destroyed by hurricanes from the sea.
Mississippi requires casinos to float along the Gulf Coast or along the Mississippi River. State law, which took effect earlier this year, allows floating casinos to build permanent landfills to stabilize barges.
It’s not clear if the strengthening would have saved the casinos as a Category 4 or 5 hurricane. None of the casinos had a chance to build the filing.
Rep. Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the law should be amended to allow land-based casinos, but only in areas where gambling houses were previously located.
“I think if they were on land, it would still have been a disaster, but it would have been almost to that extent,” said Holland, a member of the Mississippi House of Representatives’ gaming committee.
Some lawmakers, especially religious conservatives, have opposed land-based casinos along the coast or along the Mississippi River, fearing that other inland counties would also pursue gambling sites.
After the hurricane, Holland said, “I think politically what you’re going to see is that you have a different idea of everything.”
Powerful winds and large storm surges have left trash in the area, throwing away some of the barges the casino was resting like toy boats and crippling the $2.7 billion state gambling industry.
Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., headquartered in Las Vegas, has most likely lost two casinos in a powerful hurricane. Biloxi’s Casino Magic, which is owned by Las Vegas’ Pinnacle Entertainment Inc., has also suffered “significant damage.”
According to owner Penn National Gaming Inc., the Casino Magic Bay St. Louis and Boomtown Biloxi casinos in Biloxi were severely damaged. TV footage showed extensive damage to Gulfport’s Copa Casino and Biloxi’s Hard Rock Casino.
Bernie Burkholder, chairman and chief executive, said Biloxi’s Treasure Bay casino was a complete loss.
Gary Loveman, Hera’s president and CEO, said it made no sense to have casinos on boats. It has been a constant source of debate since the state legalized floating casinos in 1990 and first opened in 1992.
Loveman said, “I just never understood it.” 파워볼게임