Senate committee passes bill that bans gaming in new counties

Published 8:52 pm Friday, February 1, 2008

After contentious debate and an unsuccessful attempt to kill the legislation, the Senate Finance Committee approved on Thursday a bill that would limit casinos only to those counties where they are now located.

Sen. Dean Kirby, the committee chairman, said there hasn’t been much interest in developing more gaming other than where it already exists on the Gulf Coast and along the Mississippi River.

“To my knowledge, there’s not been any great enthusiasm for any of those casinos to come into those counties anyway,” said Kirby, R-Pearl. “Evidently, the people of Mississippi feel like we have enough counties with casinos.”

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The legislation wouldn’t affect any developments by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Kirby said.

Kirby broke a tie vote to keep the bill alive before the committee approved it and sent it on the full Senate.

Mississippi law allows casinos in the three coastal counties and counties along the Mississippi River. Not all counties have casinos.

For example, casinos are legal in Harrison and Hancock counties, but voters in Jackson County have twice rejected gaming.

Casinos are located in five of the 11 river counties — Adams, Warren, Coahoma, Washington and Tunica.

Though hampered temporarily after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Mississippi’s casino industry generated $2.89 billion last year.

Gov. Haley Barbour has said that he’s not interested in seeing the number of casinos expand.

Sen. Kenny Wayne Jones, D-Canton, voted against the bill, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to show the need to limit gaming.

“We didn’t have enough information to make an assessment of whether those counties could benefit from economic development in the future,” Jones said.

Kirby said he’ll bring the bill up for debate for the full Senate early next week.

The bill is Senate Bill 2199.