New agenda, no Roth casino

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 11, 2010

NATCHEZ — Despite hopes expressed at a recent aldermen meeting, the Roth Hill casino project is not on the Mississippi Gaming commission’s December agenda, which was made public Friday.

Commission executive director said Friday the commission cannot move forward with the Roth Hill casino project until the casino’s developers deliver a complete financial package.

Lawyers for Natchez Enterprises submitted an application to the commission for approval to proceed with development Oct. 21. However, the casino developers have not yet responded to requests from the commission for a more complete financial package, the commission’s Executive Director Larry Gregory said.

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“We’re not in a position or posture to make a decision until that information gets here in a complete package,” Gregory said.

Gregory said when developers apply to appear at the gaming commission’s monthly meeting, the application goes through a review process before the commission considers allowing them to appear.

Gregory said the commission sent a request to the developers for more information regarding finances in early-to mid-November but has received no response.

“Until that information gets here, (the project) is just sitting idle at this time,” he said.

Kevin Preston, the president of the operating company Premier Gaming that has authority to act on behalf of the developing company — Natchez Enterprises — gave no comment Friday on the project’s absence from the December agenda.

Mayor Jake Middleton said at a Nov. 23 meeting that the existence or absence of the developers on the December agenda would provide the board with some answers and help determine its next step. Some residents and aldermen have questioned whether the board should allow a lease of riverfront property with the casino company to continue.

Middleton said Friday he hoped the city could soon discover the status of the project, but he is not sure how his administration or the board of aldermen will proceed with the new information.

However, Middleton said he believes the casino development will eventually be able to move forward.

“This is a quiet period right now. (Developers) are trying to get all the (gaming commission’s) questions answered, and hopefully they will get those answers and move forward,” Middleton said.

“I still say (Premier Gaming) has only been working on this project for nine or 10 months, and the (Lane Company) worked on it for over two years.”

Premier Gaming has made more progress than the project’s past managers, Middleton said.

“The (Lane Company) never got to this point — that’s when the bottom fell out of it and nobody was putting money into casinos.”

Middleton said Premier Gaming began managing the project during the national recession, which can help explain the delay in securing financing.

“Banks were closing, there were foreclosures on houses. Finding money for a $45 million project is not an everyday occurrence. It’s very difficult to find startup capital for business,” Middleton said.

Middleton said he feels optimistic that the Roth Hill casino will be built once Premier Gaming gets its finances in order.

“They’ve done all their groundwork, they have a plan and are ready to work. That’s my opinion,” he said.

Gregory said when an application passes the review process and is placed on the meeting agenda it typically gets approved.

“With any new developments, we fast-track these projects. We want new developments, so we try to encourage anyone to get things prepared,” Gregory said.

“Hopefully we will look at additional negotiations with putting (Natchez Enterprises) on any agenda until they’re ready to move on with this project.”