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Relaxed Casino Siting Rules Prime Gulf Building Boom

A casino construction boom is quietly gathering on the Mississippi Gulf Coast to take advantage of the state's post-Katrina relaxation of siting rules that had restricted coastal casinos to floating locations.

"I expect to see Las Vegas style hotels," says Beverly Martin, executive director of the Mississippi Casino Operators Association. She says many new mega structures should emerge within the next five years, with some existing properties also planning to add 20,000 to 90,000 sq ft of retail space. Even though most owners have not announced plans, Martin says they are already in contact with architects and engineers as they prepare to move ashore.

Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour signed a law October 31 allowing casinos on the Gulf of Mexico to be built up to 800 ft inland. The move is expected to impact the coast from Biloxi to Gulfport. The mayor of Biloxi has predicted that city could have 15 to 20 casinos in the next three to five years, says spokesman Vincent Creel. The city, which already has nine casinos, expects to see an investment in that period that will far exceed the $5 billion spent over the previous 13 years, he says.

The move should also spark increased tourism as developers build more luxurious, family-friendly facil-ities to replace the casino barges and adjoined hotels, says Creel.

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One proposed resort coming together is owned by Landry's Restaurants, Houston, which also owns the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas. The company is planning to build a $500-million resort in Biloxi, with retail and meeting space, restaurants and amusement rides, says Martin. It is acquiring land from the many residents who lost homes or who would rather sell and relocate than rebuild, Martin says. "Several of the homeowners have pooled their resources to sell a land block," says Martin.

"Ultimately all of the casinos will move on land for competitive reasons," says Rick Quinn, CEO of Copa Casino in Gulfport. As casinos move on land, competition will limit the construction of "minor players," says Quinn.

The Copa Casino is primed to begin building an onshore casino reported to be valued at "several hundred million dollars," says Quinn. He says it is awaiting approval of the Mississippi State Port, which owns the land. He says the new Copa will be in operation within 18 months of port approval, which he expects to come in the next three months.

The Silver Slipper, Bay St. Louis, a total loss after Katrina, also expects a fast turnaround. The casino was in the process of moving to Lakeshore, Miss., from Biloxi before Katrina. "We took all of the drawings and scrapped them to be a 100% land-based site," says John Ferrucci, general manager and COO of the Silver Slipper.

He says construction will begin Dec. 15 on the casino and parking structure. They are scheduled to be completed quickly, in September 2006. "The key is to get the casino open and cash flowing," says Ferrucci.

The Silver Slipper expects to complete its hotel by September 2007 and attached condominiums by September 2008, he says. Boggs and Poole Contracting Group, Bossier City, La., is general contractor for the casino.

 

E. Michael Powers, Engineering News-Record

 

 

 

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