A casino project in Biloxi suffered a major setback Thursday after the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling that the proposed site does not meet state requirements for a casino site.
Casino Development Legally Stalled
The proposed casino resort comprising of a 1,300-room hotel and 100,000 square feet conference center at the site of the former Tivoli Hotel in East Biloxi was found lacking in terms of state’s requirements for casino sites.
Mississippi’s original law limited casinos only over water, but after the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 during which massive barges turned into casinos were thrown onto the land, state legislators amended the law. The requirement for the casinos to be over water was eased letting casinos on the coast, but only if other parts of the casino development site touch water.
The East Biloxi casino project was initially proposed in 2007 and a year later the developer, RW Development, owned by former owner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) franchise New Orleans Hornets, Ray Wooldridge, asked the state gaming regulator, the Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC), to approve the suitability of the site for a casino.
MGC Denies Casino Suitability for the Site
The MGC rejected the proposed site to develop a land-based gaming establishment not only in 2008, but also in 2017 and 2019, forcing the developer to appeal the decision to the Harrison County Circuit Court, where a circuit judge confirmed in 2019 the MGC’s decision, but Ray Wooldridge did not give up.
The former Hornets owner appealed to the state Supreme Court seeking it to overturn the circuit court ruling, but on Thursday justices upheld both rulings that the property at 1820 Beach Boulevard, east of Veterans Avenue, does not meet state law requirements for a casino site.
“The Court agrees with and affirms both decisions of the Harrison County Circuit Court affirming the decision of the MGC.”
Supreme Court ruling
RW Development failed to meet the requirements for a casino site or provide evidence that the site proposed for the casino development was within the required by law 800 feet of the mean high water line (MHWL), justices stated in the Thursday ruling.
Regarding the second case, the ruling says that the developer
“..failed to establish that the MHWL point of reference was located on RW’s premises, that RW owned or leased the land contiguous to the point of reference and its proposed gaming site, and that the land would play an integral part in RW’s project.”
Supreme Court ruling
The Supreme Court ruling is a blow to the $700 million ambitious project of RW Development and its owner, who in the meantime built Big Play Entertainment Center at the site, while waiting for the green light to go ahead with his casino development plans. The amusement park features a miniature golf, laser tag and many other family amusements, and recently opened a go-kart track to add to its entertainment amenities.