The vote by the state Gaming Commission was unanimous Thursday to allow Scarlet Pearl Casino in D'Iberville to proceed with construction, and to deny site approval for a casino in Diamondhead.
D'Iberville City Manager Bobby Eleuterius, who attended the meeting in Jackson, said work can begin immediately on the $250 million resort east of Interstate 110. The resort will have 300 hotel rooms, an events center, several restaurants and a 36-hole miniature golf course.
Mayor Rusty Quave and other city officials have worked for more than 20 years to get D'Iberville's first casino and Eleuterius said the commissioners wished the city "a lot of luck."
Scarlet Pearl will be South Mississippi's 13th casino. Some argue the Coast has enough casinos, but Allen Godfrey, commission executive director, said Mississippi has a free-market system and does not limit licenses as
other states do.
If a casino meets the regulations and has the financing, "Then we're going to approve it. That's the market (Mississippi) chose," he said.
Danny McDaniel, attorney for developer Land Holdings I, said after Thursday's meeting, "Construction will start tomorrow" at the Scarlet Pearl site at Central Avenue and Racetrack Road. The developers want it open by New Year's Eve 2015, he said.
McDaniel also represents Jacobs Entertainment, which wants to build a casino in the southwest quadrant of Interstate 10 and Yacht Club Drive in Diamondhead.
He said he disagrees with the Gaming Commission's decision to deny Jacobs' site approval but said the commissioners were "quite fair" in giving the developers suggestions for what they need to do to get the site approved.
"We shall return," he said.
Godfrey said the property is not on the Bay of St. Louis but is on a man-made canal. He said the developers can come back to the commission if they can gather other information about the site.
McDaniel contends an opinion by Jamie Miller, director of the state Department of Marine Resources, has no scientific merit. The June 19 opinion says marsh near the Jacobs site is considered land, so it can't be counted as part of the Bay of St. Louis.
McDaniel said he plans to get opinions from federal agencies that could counter that.
"The ruling will have far-reaching impact," he said, and could exclude several waterfront sites for casinos.
"The Vitale site is going to have exactly the same problem," he said, referring to the Diamondhead Casino Corp. property along 2 miles of the Bay of St. Louis.
Godfrey said House Bill 45, which allowed land-based casinos after Hurricane Katrina, is pretty clear the Legislature wants casino sites on the waters of the Bay of St. Louis, Biloxi Bay and Mississippi Sound and "did not want to expand gaming to where it otherwise wouldn't have been."