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5th casino tells plans to operate in city

[10/14/2004] A proposed fifth casino development in Vicksburg has taken the first step toward opening a gambling boat off U.S. 61 South.

Lakes Gaming Mississippi, LLC, a Minnesota-based company, gave public notice Wednesday of intent to make application for a gaming license.

Plans call for a 40,000-square-foot gaming vessel that would be the second-largest casino in the city. According to the plans, it would be on the Mississippi River in the city limits between Warrenton Road and Cedars.

Last year, Lakes Gaming announced that it had obtained an option to buy land south of the city between U.S. 61 South and the Mississippi River. The announcement followed statements by promoter and developer Jim Belisle that he was promoting a golf course-centered riverside development in conjunction with the Lakes project.

If developed, the casino would be the city’s southernmost, downriver from the Rainbow hotel, casino and entertainment center complex.

“For us, it will probably be pretty good. It’ll attract more business our direction,” said Curt Follmer, general manager of Rainbow Casino.

Today, four casinos operate in Vicksburg Isle of Capri, Ameristar, Rainbow and Horizon.

The largest of those is Ameristar Casino with 42,500 square feet of gaming space. Ameristar also has about 1,359 slot machines and 34 table games.

Lakes’ plan calls for 1,500 slot machines and 45 table games.

“Ameristar supports anything that will build stronger business and tourism in Vicksburg. At the same time, all we know about the Lakes Gaming project is what we read in the legal notice so we look forward to learning more about this project in the future,” said Ray Neilsen, general manager of Ameristar.

River-based casinos have been legal here since a 1990 state law and a 1992 local referendum. More than a dozen projects were initially announced, but since the fourth, Rainbow, opened in the summer of 1994, most operators have said that they do not believe the local market can support a fifth casino.

Follmer, however, said that if Lakes builds a resort-style facility similar to those on the coast and Philadelphia it could bring more people to Vicksburg.

In addition to the gaming area, state law requires casino developers to invest as much in land-based amenities as in their boats.

Giving public notice of intent to seek a gaming license, which Lakes did through a legal notice Wednesday, is the first legal step set out by Mississippi law to open a casino. Next, the company will have to file an application with the Mississippi Gaming Commission and request a site inspection.

The gaming commission must approve the site before a license is granted. New casinos must also get approval of site development plans and approval to proceed from the commission.

Leigh Ann Wilkins, director of public affairs for the Gaming Commission, said the time it takes to get all of those approvals can vary. She said they expect Lakes to come before the commission for site approval before the end of the year.

“Once they get site approval they have to open the doors to the casinos within two years,” Wilkins said.

Belisle was also associated with a development proposed for U.S. 61 North on the Yazoo River near Redwood that did not come to fruition due to a lack of financing and an effort to add a racetrack-centered development on the Big Black River near Bovina. The second effort had a $100 million commitment from Horseshoe Gaming as the developer, but was shot down first by the Gaming Commission on a split vote and ultimately by the state Supreme Court.

Though no new casinos have come to Warren County in 10 years, other areas have seen continuing changes. In June, the commission acted on site and development plans for $900 million Myriad Botanical Resort in Tunica County, Bali-Hai Casino & Resort outside of Greenville and Silver Slipper Gaming Hall & Saloon in Hancock County. A second boat planned in Natchez, the Emerald Star Casino, also won approval in March.

Today, there are 29 state-regulated casinos along the Mississippi River and Gulf Coast and two near Philadelphia owned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Two votes were held in Warren County, the first in 1990, when gaming was defeated by 958 of the 15,358 votes cast, and the second in 1992, when gaming was approved by 651 of 15,270 ballots cast.

The first casino, the Isle of Capri, opened in August 1993; Harrah’s opened in November 1993; Ameristar, February 1994; and Rainbow, July 1994.

Since then, the casinos have generated nearly $80 million in local tax revenue to the city, county and school district.

Columbia Sussex, a Kentucky-based company, last year bought the Harrah’s Vicksburg property, which now operates under the name Horizon Casino.