Miss. high court upholds legality of casino tidelands payments

Published 4:37 pm Friday, October 13, 2006

The Mississippi Supreme Court has ruled local officials and the secretary of state’s office can charge rent and levy taxes on casino barges located on public tidelands.

The justices on Thursday upheld a 2004 decision by Harrison County Chancellor Donald B. Patterson, who ruled Secretary of State Eric Clark and Harrison County officials can charge rent and levy taxes on casino barges over public waterbottoms on the coast. The litigation had been ongoing since 2002.

Imperial Palace and Treasure Bay casinos and Nevada-based Bayview Land LTD sued the secretary of state, claiming he had no right to collect rent on tidelands leased to casinos.

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The casinos claimed that owning adjoining upland property gave them littoral rights over the tidelands. Littoral rights give beachfront and other upland owners the right of access to the water bordering their property.

The Supreme Court, however, sent the case back to Patterson with directions to revise his property ruling to reflect that all land lying north and east of the high water line on July 1, 1973, shall be public tidelands and that all land lying south and west of the line are owned by Bayview and Imperial Palace.

Imperial Palace also had sued the Harrison County tax assessor and collector and the board of supervisors, claiming the county had no right to levy property taxes on the leased tidelands.

The Mississippi Supreme Court in 2004 upheld the secretary of state’s discretion to grant or deny a tidelands lease.

Clark and some casinos have been at odds for years over the tidelands, or land subject to the ebb and flow of tides.