Horizon transfer expected in months|[12/12/07]

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Transfer of the casino license from the parent company of Horizon Vicksburg Casino & Hotel to Nevada Gold Casinos Inc. will likely meet state approval within months, Missisisppi Gaming Commission officials said Tuesday.

Paperwork needed to complete the reported $35 million buyout of the 36,000-square-foot casino and 117-room hotel may take longer than the 30 days the Houston-based company originally expected, said Allen Godfrey, deputy director of the state regulatory agency.

“They are in the process of filing applications, so commission approval is down the road,” Godfrey said.

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Horizon is Vicksburg’s lone downtown casino. It was built by Harrah’s Entertainment, opened in November 1993 as Mississippi’s first hotel-casino combination, and was sold for $28.6 million to Kentucky-based Columbia Sussex in 2003. The new owners changed the name to Horizon. Principals with Nevada Gold have not announced a name change since their purchase of the property was announced Nov. 15.

Among its stated goals are to invest more money in improvements to the facility, which has trailed behind the other three area casinos in market share, as well as painting and general maintenance.

Nevada Gold’s other holdings include three casino resorts in Colorado. The company also plans to co-develop casinos in California with Native American tribes.

Members of the legal staff with the City of Vicksburg have assured no action is needed on their part before the sale is official. Part of the property occupied first by Harrah’s, then by Columbia Sussex, includes the landing to City Front. It is leased to the city for $1 annually.

Also due before state regulators in 2008 will be Las Vegas-based American Gaming Enterprises, remains in talks to buy out the gaming end of the $190 million Mississippi Bluffs development from developer Paul Bunge.

Unlike licenses, sites can be transferred from one entity to another, Godfrey said.

“They have been in contact with us about this and are working toward the next approval,” Godfrey said, referencing the presentation of a full financing plan to the three-member commission.

An affiliate of American Gaming Group LLC, the Nevada-based operation will operate locally as AGE Vicksburg LLC and own a third of the project’s overall development group, Mississippi Gaming Enterprises.

Founded in 2004, the company owns Gold King Mountain Inn in Cripple Creek, Colo., and plans to open a casino there in 2008. Overall, the firm hopes to develop or acquire seven casinos by 2012 and has also studied sites in Natchez.

Located on 40 acres formerly part of Vicksburg Chemical — and within 2 miles of the Riverwalk Casino now being built — the Bluffs casino is to cover 40,000 to 50,000 square feet with 1,200 slot machines and 35 table games and would be the city’s sixth gaming location. Site plans approved by the commission in June 2006 featured a full-service, themed restaurant and steak house. A 232-room hotel and 510-space parking garage were part of Bunge’s vision, along with a professionally designed 18-hole golf course.

Plans were amended in January 2007 to allow for the gaming part to sit on pilings on the Mississippi River, much as Ameristar Casino has done with its boat, now dry-docked.

Another proposed casino, which would be the city’s seventh, would be the southernmost. Minnesota-based Lakes Entertainment, has until February 2009 to show finances to the state. Its deal is contingent on developing about 150 acres along its U.S. 61 South site purchased temporarily from the City of Vicksburg.