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High court reverses $3M decision on Big Black

[11/1/01] The Mississippi Supreme Court has reversed the decision of a Pike County jury that awarded $3 million to a landowner along the Big Black River near Bovina where a casino was planned.

In a 6-3 decision issued late Wednesday, the state’s highest court ruled that Harrah’s and Ameristar casinos, defendants in the case, were exercising their rights under the Noerr-Pennington doctrine when opposing a Horeshoe Casino plan for a casino, hotel and car track. The facilities would be much closer to the lucrative Jackson market than the two casinos in Vicksburg.

Landowner E.L. Pennebaker had initially argued his chance to benefit from higher property values was destroyed by anti-competitive acts of Harrah’s, Ameristar, the Isle of Capri and Deposit Guaranty National Bank, now AmSouth. The Isle and the bank were not parties to the appeal of the Pike County jury that sided with Pennebaker and Jim Belisle, of Multi-Gaming Management, who both had signed contracts with Horseshoe Gaming to develop the casino and auto racetrack and hotel complex.

The decision ends civil litigation over the proposed development at Bovina, but pending before the court is a separate Hinds County judge’s finding that the Mississippi Gaming Commission was wrong to declare the Big Black River site off limits for casinos.

The majority opinion in the decision was written by Justice Mike Mills whose last day on the court was Wednesday. It includes lengthy opinions by other justices, including the three who dissented.

R. David Kaufman, a Jackson attorney representing Harrah’s, had argued before the court in August that both sides of a proposal to build a casino 13 miles east of Vicksburg engaged in an intense lobbying efforts, but that Harrah’s and Ameristar should not be made to pay a $3 million civil judgment because the Mississippi Gaming Commission denied the permit to build at the Bovina location.