• 34°

Casino developer folds plan to buy Vicksburg Chemical

[5/15/03]The company that explored buying land for a casino from bankrupt Vicksburg Chemical Company has shelved the idea, a state regulatory official said.

The decision by Jacobs Entertainment to opt out means the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality can negotiate with other prospective purchasers, MDEQ legal division chief Chuck Barlow said.

“The casino company has told us they are putting all their plans on hold,” Barlow said Tuesday of Jacobs, whose development arm is based in Cleveland, Ohio, and has gaming operations in three other states.

Nine weeks ago MDEQ officials said Jacobs’ proposal had been selected from among six proposals submitted for the land, which includes Mississippi River frontage south of Interstate 20. Jacobs was the only one of the six to propose retail use of the chemical plant land, including a casino and two golf courses on 500 of the tract’s non-industrial acres.

Jacobs was to have paid $50,000 to begin an option period that allowed the company to decide whether to pay the state $7 million for the land, said MDEQ Executive Director Charles Chisolm. If it sold for that price, the MDEQ planned to used the money to clean and clear contaminated sites that were used by the chemical plant.

The MDEQ got responsibility for the land after Vicksburg Chemical went into bankruptcy.

“We’re back to square one,” Barlow said. Jacobs told MDEQ about two weeks ago that possible competition from another casino proposed for Louisiana was its reason, Barlow added.

Chisolm said Jacobs believed a casino might be built in Madison Parish, just across the Mississippi River from Vicksburg. He said the tribe that was believed to be planning a casino there was the Jena Band of Choctaw, based in Jena, La., in central Louisiana.

Jacobs’ vice president of development and leasing, David Grunenwald, was not available.

A casino plan has been in the works for about two years by the Jena Band. The tribe’s chief, Christine Norris, said its plan calls for a casino near Logansport, near the Toledo Bend Reservoir south of Shreveport, not for one in Madison Parish. Brian Pogue, deputy director of the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Eastern Region, based in Nashville, also said the only proposed gaming site in the Jena Band’s current request was for the Logansport area. Shreveport has several state-licensed casinos.

A previous Jena application had proposed multiple gaming sites but that application has been revised, Pogue added.

The Jena plan would need federal and state approval, and Norris said her administration, which began in October 2002, was taking a different tack from its predecessor in pursuing that approval. As a first step, the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C., would approve its acquisition of the site as tribal land, Norris said. The group would then seek state approval of rights to begin gaming operations at the site, she added.

When proposed, the company’s plan was the second announced this year for a new casino and golf-course development in the same area of Vicksburg. If both were completed, the plans would have added three golf courses to Warren County, which currently has two.

The first golf-course/casino plan had been announced in January by Minnesota developer Jim Belisle. He said Lakes Entertainment, also of Minnesota, would build it between U.S. 61 South and the Mississippi River, just south of where Jacobs said six weeks later it was considering construction.

The Mississippi Legislature opened the door to casino development in river and coast counties in 1990 and Warren County voted yes to the idea in December 1991. Casino construction began here shortly thereafter, and the city now has four casinos that are approaching 10 years old.

“We are going to continue talking to people who are interested” in buying the Vicksburg Chemical property, Barlow said. He added that Jacobs would not be barred from returning to the bidding, but that “if we find a good opportunity for the state in the meantime,” the MDEQ would pursue it. “We have no commitment to wait on Jacobs Entertainment.”