Land-based future for Miss. casinos unlikely despite flooding.

The Rainbow Hotel Casino in Vicksburg was one of many Mississippi River-based gaming facilities temporarily closed due to record flooding.

In the days following the destruction meted by Hurricane Katrina, the Mississippi Legislature acted quickly to revive its decimated Gulf Coast gaming industry, rapidly passing a measure that allowed operators to reconstruct casinos on dry land 800 feet from the ocean. But Mississippi River gaming operators expecting similar relief in the wake of damage and long-term closures due to record flooding are likely to be disappointed, according to Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

“Despite the flooding, it’s unlikely the [Mississippi] Legislature will accept land-based gaming [for river casinos],” Gregory told attendees at the Southern Gaming Summit, held last month at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi, Miss. He explained that the Legislature is very conservative, and is unlikely to further alter the intent of original enabling laws that mandated casinos be operated on water.

“It took Katrina to convince legislators to bring the 800-foot rule [to the Gulf Coast] and that barely passed,” Gregory added.

The Mississippi River suffered its worst flooding since the 1920s, with water that crested 48 feet above normal by mid-May. The Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered the state’s river-based gaming properties to close as the crest advanced down the state, and remain shuttered until the flooding subsided and clean-up took place, a process that can take anywhere from three to six weeks, according to published reports.

Tunica, Miss.-based properties have been closed since Monday, May 2, and started to reopen the last week of the month. Casino barges and riverboats in Lula, Greenville, Vicksburg, Natchez and elsewhere downriver suspended operations by May 6, according to Gregory. “This is the worst flooding we’ve had in a very, very, long time,” he said. “It will have a significant economic impact on our state. In Tunica alone, the state receives $10 million in gaming tax revenue per month, not to mention taxes derived from hotels and other gaming related business.”

“The river casinos also employee 13,000 people, who will be out of work for… we just don’t know how long at this point,” Gregory added.

The Southern Gaming Summit is an annual trade show and conference that takes place each May in Biloxi and is presented by the Mississippi Casino Operators Association and BNP Media, the parent company of Casino Journal. This year’s event had over 100 exhibitors and attracted 3,000 attendees.