Pier Creates Brouhaha Around Mississippi Casino Project

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Pier Creates Brouhaha Around Mississippi Casino Project
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The future of a ninth retail casino in Biloxi may be in question after the Mississippi Secretary of State earlier this week issued a statement contending that the state gaming commission “incorrectly assessed and improperly applied” a court decision with regard to the building of a pier at a new casino site.

In a statement Monday, Secretary of State Michael Watson said, “I hope I am wrong, but this latest episode of the RW Development saga reeks more of politics than a legal development.”

The company has been trying for four years to win approval for a new casino. Now that it has that approval, it has three years to present a final plan to to the Mississippi Gaming Commission. All of Biloxi’s casinos front the water, and multiple major operators, including Golden Nugget, Hard Rock, and Harrah’s have properties in the city. Biloxi, along with the Gulfport-Bay St. Louis area are home to all of the state’s commercial casinos.

All forms of gambling in Mississippi are in person, as state lawmakers have struggled with the issue of online sports betting or online casino. During a meeting in late 2023, casino stakeholders voiced concerns over the cannibalization of retail casinos should online casino be legalized.

Currently at issue is the building and management of a pier and tidelands in Harrison County, where RW Development has plans to build a casino. Watson says the City of Biloxi approved the casino project four years ago, and in late December, the state gaming commission approved the build on the condition that RW Development build a handicap-accessible pier. That approval came months after the state Supreme Court ruled that a tidelands lease was not required to build a pier at the site, according to the Magnolia Tribune.

SOS says casino company, city, county worked together

In the statement, Watson claims he got access to a gaming commission statement explaining how it came to its decision to approve the new casino. As a result of that information, Watson said that while he would uphold the law after the state Supreme Court sided with the city of Biloxi with regard to the pier, he believes that RW Development, the city of Biloxi, and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors essentially colluded to allow a public-access pier to be built as part of the casino development.

Watson’s office oversees tidelands in the state, and he believes that the state should uphold its ownership and management of the tidelands and sand beach where the pier will be built.

Construction on a pier has not yet begun.

“The Commissioners decided the simple existence of the original lease to rebuild a public pier was sufficient to give RW Development private opportunities on the public sand beach and to grant the very site approval that had three times been disallowed, yet now ‘meets all statutory regulatory requirements’,” Watson said in his statement.