Florida casino developer interested in Natchez area

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; Charles Cato envisions a casino development in Natchez that would also include a hotel, high-end outlet stores and entertainment facilities.

And although the Florida-based developer said he hasn’t talked to city officials yet, he wonders what they can do to help him achieve that vision.

Cato, who owns an interest in Greenville’s Lighthouse Point casino and is building one in Florida, first came to Natchez about a decade ago looking to invest in the gaming market.

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Cato said this week he’s found a different attitude in the community this time around &045; one of helpfulness.

&uot;I hope this time we could bring something to the city that would be better than what you have,&uot; said Cato, who is interested in the city’s Roth Hill site as well as one slightly farther north along the river in Adams County.

Mayor F.L. &uot;Hank&uot; Smith, who has not met with Cato, said the city wants to bring in a new gaming development.

Natchez officials have been marketing the Roth Hill site to developers &045; particularly casino developers &045; and this week hosted a Mississippi Gaming Commission meeting in town.

Ideally, the gaming venture would include a hotel at the empty lot across the street from the Natchez Convention Center.

But Smith said finding grants or incentives from the state for gaming developments is hard, although there might be some help available for the other projects a developer would build.

&uot;When it involves a gaming development, grants and incentives disappear very quickly,&uot; Smith said.

Mississippi laws now require developers to invest as much money in non-gaming construction as they do in the casino itself.

But Smith said the city might be able to help a developer with water, sewer and street projects.

Cato said he isn’t sold on Natchez yet, but he does think the city can support another gaming facility in addition to the Isle of Capri casino, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in Natchez this year.

So what attracts Cato to Natchez?

&uot;It’s a destination place,&uot; he said. &uot;There’s something here for people to do besides gaming.&uot;

The development Cato is interested in &045; with shopping and entertainment options beyond a casino &045; &uot;can be an asset&uot; to that tourism economy, he said.

&uot;We want to treat people well and show them a good time,&uot; he said. &uot;But the bottom line is it’s still gambling &045; there’s risk.&uot;