Gaming panel OKs Lakes plea for more time|[02/16/07]

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 16, 2007

JACKSON – State gaming regulators extended Thursday the blessing they gave in 2005 to Lakes Entertainment to build a casino resort off U.S. 61 South.

The Mississippi Gaming Commission accepted the explanation of Richard Bienapfl, Lakes’ vice president of development and manager of the project in Vicksburg, who said protracted talks with Kansas City Southern Railway have delayed construction.

&#8220We remain committed to the project,” Bienapfl told three members of the state panel, adding the Minnesota-based company has run into &#8220wrinkles” in acquiring a final parcel of land crossed by rail tracks just beyond Meadow Lane.

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&#8220We thought we had the railroad issue taken care of a number of times,” Bienapfl told commissioners, adding negotiations with the railroad were &#8220nearing completion.”

Bienapfl said today the City of Vicksburg is in talks with the railroad about acquiring the land and an easement for the casino. City Attorney Nancy Thomas and City Planner Wayne Mansfield attended the meeting and spoke with Bienapfl at its conclusion.

Lakes was up against a Feb. 17 deadline to present its finances to the commission, the third step required by the state before construction can begin.

Many projects make it through the site approval and design phases before the state and local authorities, but some have fallen short in the third step when financial ability to move forward is required.

As proposed, Lakes’ yet-unnamed $200 million casino will be built on pilings on the Mississippi River. When originally approved by the MGC, the project was to cover 160 acres but has since acquired additional land to cover 240, Bienapfl said. Bienapfl has said the complex will employ 1,800 people and have space for 1,500 slot machines.

The company’s Web site lists a 250-room hotel, a nightclub and a restaurant as amenities at its Vicksburg casino. It is among four other casinos Lakes has in varying stages of development in California, Michigan and Oklahoma. All four are on property owned by Native American tribes.

The Lakes proposal is the most expensive of three Vicksburg casinos still in planning stages.

One, the $42 million Riverwalk Casino has until July 14 to show its financing plans to the three-member commission. Its site just north of Rainbow Casino was also approved in 2005.

Another, the Mississippi Bluffs casino and golf complex was approved for a site on 40 acres on the former Vicksburg Chemical property. It will sit on a foundation off the river’s edge, a change the commission OK’d in January. Its site approval expires Jan. 18, 2009.

Vicksburg will be home to seven casinos if all three casinos move off the drawing board and construction is completed. Of the four operating, two have changed ownership this decade, Harrah’s to Horizon in 2003 and Isle of Capri to DiamondJacks in 2006.

Rainbow Casino remains up for sale by its parent company, Bally Technologies.

The four were the only casinos built out of about a dozen proposed along the river and the Yazoo Diversion Canal. Revenue from casino taxes fund about a third of the city’s budget and help pay for Warren County’s road paving and resurfacing efforts.

Under legislation in 1990 that legalized gaming in Mississippi, casinos may only be in counties that border the Mississippi River or the Gulf of Mexico. Casinos operated by the Mississippi Band of Choctaws near Philadelphia, in Neshoba County, are not regulated by the state or subject to state gaming taxes.