Isle’s closure is a sad, harsh reality to swallow

Published 12:01 am Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rumored for months, the once proud Isle of Capri Casino in Natchez raised the white surrender flag this week.

The day was a sad one for the approximately 240 employees whose future is filled with uncertainty.

Hopefully all of those people will be able to quickly find a way to land on their feet soon after having their world rocked by the inevitable grind of competition.

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In December 2012 as competitor Magnolia Bluffs Casino opened its doors, most people were expecting a war between the two casinos.

Natchez Mayor Butch Brown, who had only been in office for a few months at the time the casino opened, was perhaps the most on-point with his forecast.

“I’ve said all along that I think the two of them will do well for the first six months or a year,” he said in 2012. “Then we’ll see what remains in terms of what (Magnolia Bluffs) eat into the Isle of Capri’s business or what they bring in new.”

A former University of Southern Mississippi professor who did extensive research on Mississippi casinos and their economic impact suggested the only way for two casinos to survive in Natchez was to somehow broaden the market from which the two casinos pulled gamblers.

“If I were advising the CEOs of these companies, I’d say, ‘You guys need to do some joint marketing,” said Dr. Denise Runge in 2012. “The introduction of the new one will almost assuredly cause renovation and expansion of the other one.”

Runge’s advice and logic seemed sound at the time.

What none of us knew at the time was that the Isle, apparently, didn’t want to risk much in Natchez.

Either they didn’t have to or they simply knew the fight wouldn’t be worth winning.

Just up the river, the new upstart casino’s investors had practically nothing to lose but money and a ticket to the best country in the world to gain.

Some 46 foreign investors forked out $500,000 each to help fund the development of Magnolia Bluffs.

Current Natchez Eola Hotel owner Robert Lubin corralled the investors and put the deal together. The investors gambled half a million bucks for a chance to earn a green card.

The EB-5 visa program is aimed at spurring outside investment into America by foreign nationals. The trick is their investment must be shown to provide jobs for Americans.

In Magnolia Bluffs’ case, Lubin — an attorney whose firm specializes in guiding wealthy investors through the EB-5 process — dubbed Magnolia Bluffs as a great success. It’s touted as a success story on his website, though it sort of misses the truth a bit in some areas — namely that the project “helped fund the rehabilitation of a previously abandoned mill on the banks of the Mississippi River.”

In truth all of Magnolia Bluffs was built from scratch. It was made to take styling cues from an old mill, but one that was long gone.

On paper, the casino is indeed a success.

It’s been up and rolling for nearly three years, and by all accounts seems to be the young buck that outfought the old buck to take the top position.

But in reality it wasn’t much of a fight. The Isle of Capri simply died a slow, agonizing, but nearly inevitable, death.

In a slightly disgusting way, the Isle’s death is a celebration for the foreign investors of the other casino who likely will earn the ability to live and work in America all because they are wealthy.

Somehow knowing that just makes the Isle’s death all that more difficult to swallow.

Will Natchez survive? Certainly. We’re simply back to square one, but for the city, I cannot help but feel we’ve been used a bit.

But that’s the gaming business. The house always wins.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or