New law allowing land-based casinos cause for optimism in Miss.

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DETROIT -- The Hurricane Katrina disaster in Mississippi could by itself probably qualify as the worst natural disaster in American history, Stephen Richer told delegates at the National Tour Association convention here.

The headquarters of the Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, of which Richer is executive director, was blown away. Out of 150,000 buildings [in the CVBs area], 50,000 are gone, 85,000 are damaged, Richer added.

Richer is optimistic now, however, based primarily on two developments. One is a commission organized by Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour to create a full-range plan for the recovery of the Gulf Coast. And helping to expedite that project is a law passed by the Mississippi legislature Oct. 17, making it legal to have casinos on land. (Previously, casinos were required to have at least a portion of the property based in the water.)

The Governors Commission on Recovery, Rebuilding and Renewal plans to release a report Dec. 9 on the state of the recovery in Mississippi with recommendations on how to proceed with further recovery efforts.

My expectation is a very aggressive goal set in terms of the destination, Richer said. And there is an extremely high amount of public and private investment coming in largely because of the change in the (casino) law, which now allows casinos to be built within 800 feet of the water, instead of being required to be in the water.

This gives a message to Wall Street and to the insurance industry that we can rebuild something safer, Richer said. It will be the catalyst that will change the investment climate.

The majority of casino barges were dramatically damaged, Richer said, or moved from their moorings completely.

Three casinos that suffered limited damage are slated to open around the New Year. The Palace and the Isle of Capri casino barges were both destroyed. However, they are both moving their casinos into their meetings spaces, courtesy of the new law. Meanwhile, the Imperial Palace will reopen with its casino on the barge where it was. 

It will be a year or two before everybody is back, Richer said.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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