Officials must weigh choice regarding casinos on land

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Mississippi Legislature was set to open a special sessionthis morning to cobble together short- and long-term plans to meetthe continuing needs the state faces as it works to recover fromthe devastating blow dealt by Hurricane Katrina.

Among items Gov. Haley Barbour – who controls the session’sagenda –┬áhas said might be on the table are proposals ranging fromgranting tax exemptions to offering small-business loans to helpingthe state’s Gulf Coast casino industry back to its feet followingthe storm.

Since their legalization in 1990, casinos have become vital toMississippi’s economy. The state estimates it is losing $400,000 to$500,000 a day because of Katrina, which knocked all of the state’scoast casinos out of commission. Last year, Mississippi casinosgenerated $2.7 billion in revenue – a healthy portion of thatcoming from the coast operations.

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As distasteful as legalized gambling is to many Mississippians,the revenue is money our state has come to depend on over the last15 years and money its already-strained state budget cannot dowithout.

District 53 Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, the chairman of theHouse Gaming Committee said recently that the loss of the state’scasinos would be “an economy wrecker.” He is right on target, andthe state must take all reasonable measures to ensure the coastcasinos are up and running again as quickly as possible.

Doing so may mean tweaking state law to allow casinos to crawlout of the water and onto the nearby shore – currently prohibitedby state law – either as a short-term or permanent solution.

Barbour said last week he would allow discussion on casinooperations “in structures other than barges,” and it’s an idea thatat least merits an open-minded, fair discussion.

While we would not want to see casinos overtake the state,lawmakers and the governor must decide whether allowing them tobuild substantial structures near the water (not miles inland)rather than on it would increase the chances the casinos couldbetter withstand future storms.