Mississippi House squashes bill to approve a casino in Jackson

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

JACKSON (AP) — A Mississippi House leader said Tuesday that he won’t move forward with a bill to allow a casino in the capital city of Jackson — a proposal that would have been a dramatic change in a decades-old a state law that limits casinos to areas along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River.

But, even as House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Trey Lamar made the announcement that will likely kill the bill for this year, he offered encouragement to people who might invest in a casino just over 1 mile from the state Capitol building.

“Don’t give up,” Lamar said.

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Lamar filed the bill Monday, but then decided not to bring it up for vote Tuesday after House Republicans met privately and decided there were not enough votes to pass the bill.

Lamar’s bill specified that a Jackson casino would be owned by at least one person who already owns a licensed casino. The closest casinos to downtown Jackson are about 48 miles to the west, along the Mississippi River in Vicksburg.

Two Vicksburg lawmakers — Democratic Rep. Oscar Denton and Republican Rep. Kevin Ford — said opening a Jackson casino would hurt their city. More than 1,100 people work in the four Vicksburg casinos and connected hotels.

“It would’ve been devastating to us,” Denton said.

Republicans hold a majority in the 122-member House. Some Democrats also said they would oppose a new casino site.

Rep. Robert Johnson of Natchez, the House Democratic leader, said a Jackson gambling site would hurt casinos along the Mississippi River, including in his hometown.

“The coast may survive it,” Johnson said. “But there’s no way anybody else could survive it.”

The first casinos opened in Mississippi in 1992. The state Gaming Commission site shows that 12 state-licensed casinos operate on the Gulf Coast, and 14 operate along the Mississippi River. The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians also operates three casinos that are not regulated by the state — two near Philadelphia and one near Laurel.

Mississippi originally specified that casinos could be developed only over water. After Hurricane Katrina blew some of the massive casino barges onto land along the coast in 2005, legislators changed the law to allow casinos to develop a short distance on shore.