Mississippi: Tidelands Bill setting the stage for casino development regulations receives senate approval

The Tidelands bill, which delineates the permissible locations for casino construction along the Coast and asserts control over local harbors, received unanimous approval in the Mississippi Senate on Thursday.

According to Sen. Scott DeLano (R-Biloxi), the bill has another 30 days until a final vote. Before Thursday’s vote, two amendments were introduced to Senate Bill 2780 during committee review.

The first amendment, proposed by David Blount (D-Hinds County), Chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, specifies that a Tidelands lease must be established between the Coast municipalities and the secretary of state, The Sun Herald reported.

There’s been a lot of conversations involving local government on the Gulf Coast to protect their authority to manage ports and harbors down there,” Blount was quoted as saying in the report.

Notably, Gulfport Mayor Billy Hewes and Biloxi Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich were among Coast officials who visited the Capitol over the past two weeks to express their concerns to the Coast delegation.

Blount emphasized that he and Secretary of State Michael Watson are not inclined to micromanage local harbors. He clarified that while decisions regarding harbor management and revenues are best handled by local entities, the amendment reinforces the requirement for a lease with the secretary of state.

Additionally, the amendment mandates that all casino developers secure a tidelands lease directly from the state, rather than through the municipality, as was the case with the Mississippi Gaming Commission’s approval of RW Development’s casino project in Biloxi in December.

The amendment by Mike Thompson, chairman of the Senate Ports & Marine Resources Committee, which includes a reverse repealer, extends the timeframe for adjustments to the bill during its progression over the next month by necessitating conference committee deliberations.

“This bill has generated a lot of concern back on the Coast,” said Thompson. “We want to make sure that nothing in this bill precludes those government authorities from having exclusive control over their ports and harbors.”

The House counterpart, HB 1659, was approved by a vote of 113-6 on February 29. The bill will now return to the House for reconciliation with the Senate version.

Despite the forthcoming deadline for bill passage, a conference committee comprising members from both chambers will work to reconcile any disparities between the House and Senate versions before a final vote.

Blount stressed the intention to afford ample time for Coast residents to provide input and comprehend the implications of the bill.