Casinos to be reimbursed for part of lawsuit expenses

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 3, 2002

[10/03/02]Two Vicksburg casinos that won their appeal after being sued by people interested in a proposed Big Black River casino development are to be reimbursed for part of their expenses, a Pike County circuit judge has said.

Ameristar Casinos Inc. and Harrah’s Vicksburg Corporation, parent companies of the gambling facilities on the Mississippi River in Vicksburg, are to be paid $21,161.25 and $21,275.31 respectively, an Aug. 29 order of Judge Mike Smith says.

About 80 percent of the amounts are to cover appeal bond premiums, which were paid to insure that Warren County landowner E.L. Pennebaker Jr. and casino developer James F. Belisle, would be paid judgments if they won the appeal.

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A Pike County jury in 1999 awarded about $2.9 million to Belisle’s company, Multi Gaming Management, and another $942,000 to Pennebaker.

That judgment, for prospective partners in the planned Big Black casino development, was based on a claim that Ameristar, Harrah’s, the Isle of Capri and Deposit Guaranty National Bank conspired to defeat the project’s application that was then pending before the Mississippi Gaming Commission. The Isle settled before trial and the bank afterward.

The judgment was reversed by Mississippi Supreme Court in October 2001. A majority opinion then acknowledged “that the open-door’ policy employed by the MGC should be re-examined,” but ruled that under existing law the casinos were immune from liability.

The Aug. 29 ruling says other costs for which Ameristar and Harrah’s sought reimbursement were not recoverable.

Proposed was a $125 million development featuring a car racing track, hotel and casino on land near Pennebaker’s property on Warren County’s eastern border. Since it was 15 miles closer to the major Jackson market, Vicksburg and other entities opposed the plan.

The Gaming Commission ruled the site “unsuitable,” but was reversed by Hinds County Judge L. Breland Hilburn. Since then, the Supreme Court has reversed that ruling, too, effectively eliminating all sites for development except this along the county’s western border.