Casino Gambling

Casino deal no sure bet for Gulfport Harbor

The Gulfport City Council will consider a proposal to develop the Gulfport Harbor property where several developers over the years, starting with Donald Trump in 1993, have proposed by failed to develop a casino resort. The the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission solicited and received several proposals to develop the property.
The Gulfport City Council will consider a proposal to develop the Gulfport Harbor property where several developers over the years, starting with Donald Trump in 1993, have proposed by failed to develop a casino resort. The the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission solicited and received several proposals to develop the property. TIM ISBELL/SUN HERALD

GULFPORT -- Like the three proposals before it, the latest casino plan for the city's showcase harbor is far from a done deal.

The developers -- Virginia attorney Robert Lubin and Kentucky casino-company owner Kevin Preston -- still have to raise the money to build the casino, Lubin confirmed Wednesday. Lubin and Preston also

must satisfy Mississippi Gaming Commission demands that any casino built in the state must have 300 hotel rooms with a three-diamond or higher rating; at least a 50,000-square-foot casino floor; a fine-dining restaurant; and a non-gambling amenity meant to grow the casino market. Lubin and Preston say they can build a casino resort on about 10 acres in the harbor for $140 million. "Based on our experience," Lubin said in an email, "we believe it is realistic."

But the only casino built under current Gaming Commission requirements, the Scarlet Pearl in D'Iberville, cost $290 million. It has the minimum 300 hotel rooms, no parking garage, and a miniature golf course with a volcano as its amenity.

The Gulfport Harbor casino, Lubin said, would have a parking garage, four-star hotel, a 50,000-square-foot casino, entertainment venue and a non-gaming amenity as yet to be determined.

"Again, we are very early in the process and are considering various options," he said.

Attorney Dan McDaniel, chairman of law firm Baker Donelson's casino department, represented Scarlet Pearl during its state approval process. "The Gaming Commission will be very strict in their requirements for development," he said.

Scarlet Pearl developers added the golf course with an exploding volcano when the commission stood firm on its amenity requirement.

"The Gaming Commission has a lot of latitude, but the burden is on the developer to come up with the amenity," McDaniel said.

Lubin and Preston's first step in the state licensing process will be transfer of site approval to their company from Rotate Black, the last company that planned a harbor casino. Rotate Black was unable to secure financing for its casino resort.

The second step -- asking the commission for permission to proceed with construction -- is much more involved. At that time, the developers must show plans for the casino that meet the commission's minimum standards and provide financial documents that show they have the money to build it as proposed.

They could try to use the aquarium that is proposed nearby in Gulfport as the unique attraction, but Godfrey said all amenities have to be in place before the casino opens. "That's per our regulations."

Lubin specializes in immigration law. He raises capital for developments such as hotels, hospitals and apartment complexes from foreign investors who as a result can secure EB-5 visas and permanent U.S. residency. He first teamed with Preston, CEO of Premier Gaming Group, to build Magnolia Bluffs Casino in Natchez.

For the project, Lubin said, the partners will need to raise $500,000 each, the minimum investment for an EB-5 visa, from 120 to 140 investors for the equity investment.

Lubin expects he can raise the money by Sept. 30. City leaders and two other property owners whose land is part of the proposed casino development have agreed the deadline is reasonable, said Steve Hendrix, an attorney at Butler Snow in Jackson who advises the Gulfport Redevelopment Commission, the city's urban development agency.

Hendrix said the GRC has a written agreement with the developers that contemplates a casino lease agreement within 45 days. The lease with all three property owners, he said, would set the Sept. 30 deadline for financing. The city owns 3.4 acres of the harbor property, which includes acreage belonging to defunct businesses Misco Marine and Marine Life.

"We are very optimistic that this is going to be a good development and spur other development," Hendrix said.

Lubin said casino design is just beginning.

"We plan to consider the architecture of the surrounding area in our design," he wrote in response to emailed questions because, he said, he was trying to catch up on legal work. "We want to complement the area. Gulfport has an absolutely beautiful small craft harbor and very inviting downtown area."

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