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City grants casino request to postpone portion of lease payments

NATCHEZ — City of Natchez officials granted Magnolia Bluffs Casino forbearance on the casino’s April lease payment so the casino could continue paying its employees during the COVID-19 closure.

Magnolia Bluffs pays the City of Natchez more than $1 million annually to operate on city-owned land under the bluff in addition to paying gaming taxes, which provides a large chunk of the city’s revenue.

Mississippi Gaming Commission ordered all of the state’s casinos to close on March 17 to slow the spread of COVID-19 after the Centers for Disease Control and the state health department recommended that no more than 10 people should gather into a room at a time.

Magnolia Bluffs requested during a regularly scheduled meeting of the Natchez Mayor and Board of Aldermen on Tuesday, which was hosted via teleconference, that the city grant them forbearance on the April lease payment.

City officials deferred making a decision until a special-called meeting on Thursday, giving the City Clerk Servia Fortenberry time to review the city’s budget and reassure officials that the city would be able to cover its own bills and payroll.

The board passed a motion Thursday allowing the casino to pay a third of their April payment for the following three months in addition to the months’ regular lease.

Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith said the deferred payment might help the city in the coming months when the city sees a significant drop in sales tax revenue due to other businesses closing because of COVID-19.

“We will see a decrease in sales tax revenue in the next few months, so this little extra on top might actually help us in the long run,” she said.

Natchez Mayor Darryl Grennell said he had instructed the City Clerk’s office to record the revenue changes during the COVID-19 threat so that the city might be eligible for federal relief.