Harrison County

Biloxi: Casino rent belongs in our pockets, not the general fund

The Golden Nugget in Biloxi
The Golden Nugget in Biloxi File

Biloxi city attorneys argued Thursday that more than $1 million of casino rent money that was put into the state’s general fund defies a court settlement that mandates the money be paid to the city.

City representatives squared off against an attorney for the Secretary of State’s office during a court hearing in Hancock County Chancery Court on Thursday before Judge Jennifer Schloegel.

The state argued legislation supersedes previous court settlements.

During the last session, the state legislature passed House Bill 878, which “directs the state fiscal officer to transfer sums from certain funds in the state treasury to the capital expense fund.”

Secretary of State attorney Wilson Minor argued the bill allowed the state to take more than $1 million earmarked for the city.

He said the office acted on the authority of the Legislature and said Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was authorized to take funding out of the account the money is placed in — the Tidelands Trust Fund.

Minor added that what the Legislature decides “trumps the city of Biloxi and the IHL (Institutions of Higher Learning).”

Representing the city, Micheal Whitehead said the sweep defied a 2002 Point Cadet court agreement.

Under that agreement, the Isle of Capri agreed to pay the city of Biloxi $2.48 million in annual rent. The Isle has since been sold to Golden Nugget Casino, and after that amount is paid to Biloxi, the remaining amount is split three ways between Biloxi, the IHL and the Secretary of State. The allocation of funds remained untouched since the 2002 agreement until the Legislature’s last session in June.

Biloxi is trying to recoup the $1.18 million in back rent payment and establish a future agreement that would put authority over the money in city hands. The agreement would remove the Secretary of State as trustee of the funds.

“We think the Secretary of State has the ability to pay what he has right now,” said Biloxi city attorney Gerald Blessey, “and going forward, the rent should be paid to the city to make it whole first, then split to make the city, the IHL and the Secretary of State whole.”

Whitehead proposed that Biloxi be given first authority to oversee the money from now on.

Britt Singletary, attorney for Golden Nugget Casino Biloxi and its parent company, Landry’s, agreed.

“I believe it’s in the best interest of the city to account for it,” Singletary told Schloegel. “The taxes pay for city services we all use, police, fire, roads.”

A date for the next court hearing has not yet been set.