Casino jobs a boost

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 26, 2005

Natchez &8212; Local officials were pleased by the approval of a new gaming development that would bring about 400 jobs and $70 million into the area.

Emerald Star got the green light Thursday from the Mississippi Gaming Commission for a casino boat to be located just south of the Mississippi River bridge in Natchez.

&8220;I&8217;m glad that things are moving forward,&8221; said Adams County Supervisors President Darryl Grennell, noting he&8217;s especially pleased about the 400 potential jobs. &8220;That&8217;s what we need. It looks like things are picking up with Rentech and with his development.&8221;

Email newsletter signup

Natchez Mayor Phillip West could not be reached for comment.

Natchez City Attorney Walter Brown said the casino would be in the city limits, but Natchez will share tax collections from the boat with the county, as it does with Isle of Capri gaming revenues.

&8220;Our deal with the county was that with any boat that comes, there would be a 70/30 split,&8221; Brown said.

Florida developer Charles Cato said this week that his plans for Emerald Star include buying the Ramada Inn Hilltop, where he will rebuild the main L-shaped building, turning 100 rooms into 75.

Cato &8212; who has been working on the Natchez project for about two years &8212; said the casino boat would have 1,020 slot machines, 19 tables and six poker tables.

The project will go through the normal approvals process for Natchez developments &8212; including showing the site plan to the Planning Commission &8212; but Brown said he does not believe the site is within the required distance to an historic district to need approval from the Preservation Commission.

Some gaming industry experts have been split on whether the Natchez market can support a second casino, and an informal online Democrat poll garnered about 60 percent of about 100 voters who said the city does not need another gaming boat.

But Grennell said Natchez has had interest in another casino vessel for nearly as long as Isle of Capri, formerly Lady Luck Casino, has been docked at Under-the-Hill.

&8220;For the past eight years, we&8217;ve had several casino developers interested in Natchez,&8221; Grennell said. &8220;Charles Cato is the third person to have approached us.&8221;

Other casino developers talked to the county about the former Belwood Country Club site, where they could situate a casino in the creek. Still others talked to city officials about the Roth Hill Road site, just north of where Isle of Capri now sits.

&8220;There&8217;s always been interest in additional development,&8221; Grennell said.

And Cato said Natchez should be promoting all of its tourism opportunities, especially while gaming developments on the coast are in the process of rebuilding.

&8220;Natchez should be aggressively promoting itself,&8221; Cato said.