BILOXI, Miss. – Mississippi placed its bets on gambling giants to help rebuild the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast with a law signed Monday by Gov. Haley Barbour allowing casinos to build onshore.
All 13 floating hotel-casinos on the Mississippi coast were damaged or destroyed when Hurricane Katrina slammed ashore Aug. 29. The killer winds and storm surge tore the walls off many gambling houses and tossed some of the massive barges on land.
The new law, approved during a special legislative session earlier this month, allows the casinos to build up to 800 feet inland. Previously, religious conservatives had fought successfully to keep the casinos off dry land.
Barbour said the change will help the casinos, which employ 17,000 people on the coast, come back “a lot bigger and better.”
The casinos generated $500,000 a day in state and local taxes before Katrina, according to the state Gaming Commission.
“They’re a great taxpayer,” Barbour told casino executives, local politicians and lawmakers during a ceremony at a job center.
Barbour said the new law clears the way for the gambling giants that operate the casinos to borrow and invest more money along the Mississippi coast, while getting the insurance they need to get up and running again.
The state legalized casinos in 1990 but restricted them to the waters of the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.