Published on: December 24, 2023 at 01:53 pm.
Last updated on: 23 December 2023 at 04:02 h.
The Biloxi Casino Resort, which has been featured four times over the past 15 years, has received site approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission (MGC).
State gaming regulators last Thursday gave their blessing to RW Development and local businessman Ray Woolridge despite strong opposition from the city’s existing casinos. MGC has issued site approval for a casino on the RW Development property on Veterans Avenue at Beach Boulevard (U.S. Highway 90).
The commissioners offered to endorse the site on several conditions. Approval lasts for three years, meaning RW Development will need to secure financing and finalize and approve its design within this time frame. Site approval cannot be transferred to another company without subsequent MGC approval.
RW Development also must create a handicap-accessible sidewalk, a project expected to cost more than $3 million, and maintain the structure. As for the casino, the gaming space must remain 800 feet from the average high water line as required by state gaming law.
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Woolridge wants to replace its Big Play entertainment center with a casino resort. But over the years, he has faced countless legal challenges and opposition to the project.
Woolridge’s application was first denied in July 2008 because the MGC concluded that his property failed to meet the governing legal and regulatory requirements that Gulf Coast casinos must stay within 800 feet of the mean high water line. Woolridge unsuccessfully appealed the order, but the courts agreed that the 800-foot rise begins where the average water height meets the beach, not at the front of the seawall.
Woolridge moved forward again in early 2017 after installing a new MGC. The project was rejected again, and the appeal was again upheld. He submitted a new plan in June 2017 but the site was rejected for a third time.
RW Development requested approval for the fourth time starting this year after agreeing to build a public pier on behalf of the city through a lease.
Mississippi Attorney General Len Fitch sued Biloxi on charges that it did not have the authority to contract for the project with RW Development because it did not have a lease for the property. The state of Mississippi owns the state’s tidal lands, which are lands that are covered and exposed daily by water as a result of the tides.
The state’s highest court in March of this year ruled against Fitch and said Biloxi had the authority to build the pier. This ruling was crucial to Woolridge, as it provided him with control of the land on the southeast corner of Beach Blvd. With the area approaching the mean high water line, the MGC signed off on site approval for the Games.
Representatives of some of Biloxi’s eight existing casinos have expressed opposition to approving the site for gaming. Michael Brophy, deputy director of the Mississippi Hospitality and Gaming Association, which represents Gulf Coast casinos, opined in a letter to gaming commissioners that the property still does not meet state qualifications for gaming.
Brophy cited a lease agreement between the city of Biloxi and RW Development that prohibits gaming on the actual sidewalk.
“The language in the lease itself clearly states that the tenant is entitled to non-exclusive use and possession of the building, and the tenant must use the building for a non-gaming use,” Brophy said.
MGC disagreed with his argument.
“It seems they don’t want additional competition,” Woolridge told the newspaper. Biloxi Sun Herald.