Gulfport casino closer to reality in spot where others have failed

Gulfport Gaming Development will go to the Gulfport Planning Commission this month asking for approvals to use land at the harbor for a casino.
Gulfport Gaming Development will go to the Gulfport Planning Commission this month asking for approvals to use land at the harbor for a casino. ttisbell@sunherald.com

Virginia attorney Robert Lubin announced plans a year ago to build a $140 million casino resort at the harbor. The project will go to the Gulfport Planning Commission on Jan. 26 for approval to use five lots for a casino.

The 10-acre site on the west side of the harbor, where Rotate Black and other casinos were proposed but never built, is owned by the city, Marine Life Oceanarium and Misco Marine.

The developers, Gulfport Gaming Development, have a Jan. 31 a deadline to present construction plans to the city and other property owners for review.

John Stewart, president of Encompass architectural firm in Kentucky, is the architect for the developers and is listed on the agenda for the Jan. 26 meeting of the planning commission. According to the Encompass website, his $100 million company “has built churches, casinos and corporate headquarters,” and his clients include casino companies Pinnacle and Churchill Downs.

Gulfport spokesman Chris Vines said Stewart has informed the property owners of the planned uses of their property for the casino, “and the owners support those uses.”

It is unclear why the developers are asking the city to approve the property for a casino after a year of working with the city on the casino project and getting site approval from the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

The developers, who were in Jackson on Wednesday with photographs and plans, couldn’t be reached for comment. Allen Godfrey, executive director of the gaming commission, said they showed up at MGC office, met with the staff and gave them a slide presentation of the project.

Little has been heard from the developers since September, when Lubin asked the city to reduce the lease payments on the land for two months until Congress renewed the EB-5 program. The program is how Lubin and his business partner, Kevin Preston of Kentucky, plan to raise the money to build the Gulfport casino. EB-5 allows foreigners to secure permanent residency in the United States in exchange for investing in projects in the U.S.

Lubin told the Sun Herald last year the minimum investment is $500,000, and he would need 120 to 140 investors to build the casino.

In September, Lubin described a casino with high ceilings, impressive escalators, colored lights, a swimming pool and great views of the water. The parking garage will be built west of the casino, he said, and have a large mural that can be seen from the pool instead of a view of the neighboring port.

He estimated the casino resort would cost $140 million to $160 million.