Representatives of RW Development say they have documents to substantiate their claims that property at U.S. 90 and Veterans Avenue is a legal casino site.
They will present that information to the Mississippi Gaming Commission on Thursday.
The Gaming Commission will meet at 9 a.m. at D’Iberville City Hall. After the regular meeting, the commission will have what is anticipated to be an hours-long public hearing on site approval for the RW site and a site owned by Jacobs Entertainment west of Yacht Club Drive in Diamondhead.
The Gaming Commission denied the RW site in 2008 and the Jacobs site in 2014. Both have applied for a re-hearing.
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Michael Cavanaugh, attorney for RW Development, has maintained the law shows the mean high-water line is the seawall and because the beach is man-made and the RW property abuts the toe of the seawall, it is a legal casino site. He will defend that position to the Gaming Commission on Thursday.
Among the documents RW attorneys and consultants intend to present are:
▪ A map showing the mean high-water line.
▪ A 2008 attorney general’s opinion on Public Trust Tidelands and the mean high-water line.
▪ A 2008 letter from Jim Simpson, who drafted HB 45 with then-chairman of the House Gaming Committee Bobby Moak, describing why they decided to use the mean high-water line as the measurement. “At the time of drafting the legislation and the adoption of the legislation we were well aware that the mean high-water line in most instances in Harrison County would, in fact, be the seawall. That being said, it was clearly contemplated and anticipated that sites such as RW Development’s would be legal sites under the purview of House Bill 45,” Simpson’s letter says.
▪ A 2017 letter from Joe Gill Jr., former director of the Department of Marine Resources and now a consultant on tidelands issues, which says he believes the RW site is legal according to the Coastal Wetland Law.
▪ A letter from Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, delivered to the Gaming Commission on the day of the hearing in 2008, but not entered into public record.
Hosemann was on vacation at the time of that hearing and later told the Sun Herald the letter was written to the Gaming Commission for its use and not to support or contradict any ruling of the commission.
The commissioners in 2008 — chairman Jerry St. Pé, John Hairston and Nolen Canon — said they were not lawyers and spent hundreds of hours trying to understand the issues of RW site approval and the intent of the Legislature when HB 45 passed. They voted against site approval, saying RW Development didn’t own to the water’s edge.
Rep. Richard Bennett, current chairman of the House Gaming Committee, said he has spoken to attorneys in Jackson and asked if the law needed to be changed to reflect what he believes was the intent of the Legislature to permit casinos to come on land but not allow the expansion of gambling sites.
“Do we need to go in and clarify?” he said he asked. “They said it was clear.”
Thursday’s meeting won’t be about the economic benefits of these casinos or if there are already enough casinos in South Mississippi, only whether the sites are legal and suitable. The commissioners won’t vote on site approval Thursday but that could come at the March meeting.
The regulations say, “The commission has final authority in reviewing and approving each site as it pertains to meeting the requirements of this regulation.”