Miss. lawmaker says plan could stop N.J.-style casino shutdowns

Published 11:41 pm Saturday, July 8, 2006

A key lawmaker says if Mississippi ever faces a severe state budget crunch, he doesn’t want casinos in this state to face the same forced shutdowns that New Jersey gambling halls experienced this past week.

Rep. Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, says he’ll propose a bill that would allow the Mississippi Gaming Commission to keep operating and the casinos to stay open if this state ever has to shut down government.

“We need to do some legislation so we don’t become embarrassed like New Jersey,” said Moak, chairman of the state House Gaming Committee.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Much of New Jersey’s government shut down for several days because of a political clash that left the state without a budget when the new fiscal year started July 1.

Atlantic City casinos were forced to close because New Jersey law requires state regulators to be on site when gambling is taking place.

Larry Gregory, executive director of the Mississippi Gaming Commission, said Mississippi does not require regulators to be at the casinos at all times.

He praised Moak’s proposal, which could be considered when lawmakers convene in January. Gregory said it would provide peace of mind in case questions arise about an industry that employs thousands of people and accounts for millions of dollars a year in tax revenues.

“I don’t think anyone would want the tax revenue to cut off,” Gregory said Friday. “I don’t think anyone would want people to be out of work.”

Mississippi allows casinos along the Gulf Coast and on the Mississippi River. The state has the nation’s third-largest gaming market, after Nevada and New Jersey.

The state’s gaming industry is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina, which struck last Aug. 29 and destroyed or severely all the coast casinos, the 12 that were open and one that was about to start operating. Five have reopened.

Mississippi’s fiscal year also starts July 1, and lawmakers generally agree on the details of a state budget months in advance.

In 2005, a battle over education funding derailed the budget process, and legislators ended their regular session in early April without approving a spending plan. Gov. Haley Barbour called them back in a special session several weeks later, and it took nine days for them to resolve their differences and adopt a budget.