Casino seeks final OK

Published 12:00 am Thursday, November 17, 2005

NATCHEZ &8212; Florida developer Charles Cato will ask the Gaming Commission today for final approval to locate the Emerald Star Casino near Natchez.

If approved, the casino would locate just south of the Mississippi River bridge adjacent to the Ramada Inn Hilltop.

Cato, who has bought The Briars bed-and-breakfast inn, has said he&8217;ll build his own hotel because talks to buy the Ramada fell through. State law requires casino developers to invest as much in a hotel or other land-based development as they invest in their casino &8220;boats.&8221;

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Final approval would mean not only that Cato could begin construction &8212; a building timeline wasn&8217;t available as of press time &8212; but would represent Cato has all the financing in place to make the development happen, Natchez developer Dan Bland said.

&8220;He has to have that all in place in order for (the commission) to approve it,&8221; said Bland, who has worked closely with Cato to make the casino deal happen. &8220;This&8217;ll mean 400 jobs for Natchez &8230; and represent a $60 million investment.&8221;

Prior to final approval, Cato is also on the commission&8217;s agenda asking the group to OK an amended site and development plan. But Cato couldn&8217;t be reached for comment prior to today&8217;s commission meeting in Biloxi, and Bland wouldn&8217;t say exactly what the changes would entail. Cato&8217;s original site and development plan was approved by the commission in February 2004.

Cato is also required to submit a site plan to the city&8217;s Planning Commission for its approval.

In 2003, Cato had talked with city officials about the possibility of locating a casino at the city-owned Roth Hill property and using three other on-the-hill properties for, among other things, a convention center hotel, but talks with the city fell through.