FILE – Republican Secretary of State Michael Watson addresses the crowd at the pavilion in Founders Square at the Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia, Miss., July 28, 2022. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File – Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Watson contends that “this latest episode of the RW Development saga reeks more of politics than a legal development.”
Last month, after 15 years of planning and four attempts, RW Development won approval for the ninth casino in Biloxi and thirteenth on the Mississippi Coast on Thursday. The Gaming Commission voted to approve the site development on the recommendation of its Executive Director.
The Gaming Commission placed conditions on the developers after granting the approval, one of which was the construction of a handicap accessible pier. The Mississippi Supreme Court ruled last year that a tidelands lease was not required to build a pier at the Veterans Avenue location, siding with the City of Biloxi which approved the project nearly four years ago.
On Monday, Secretary of State Michael Watson, whose office oversees public trust tidelands and associated leases, raised concerns about the recent approval by the Gaming Commission, saying, “this latest episode of the RW Development saga reeks more of politics than a legal development.”
Watson stated that he “firmly” disagreed with the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision in State v. RW Development, “but as an elected official and lawyer, I will follow the law regardless of whether I believe the Supreme Court’s decision was ill-conceived,” he said.
Secretary Watson went on to say that he recently obtained the Gaming Commission’s statement explaining its decision to grant RW Development’s application for site approval, and upon review felt compelled to make known his contention that the Gaming Commission “incorrectly assessed and improperly applied the Court’s decision.”
“The Court held the City of Biloxi could build, or cause to be built, a replacement pier without a new lease from the State, solely allowing the rebuilding of a public pier. Despite the Court’s decision in March 2023, no pier construction has begun,” Watson stated. “The Commissioners decided the simple existence of the original lease to rebuild a public pier was sufficient to give RW Development private opportunities on the public sand beach and to grant the very site approval that had three times been disallowed, yet now “meets all statutory regulatory requirements.”
Secretary Watson added that the development was a coordinated effort of RW Development, the City of Biloxi, and the Harrison County Board of Supervisors are continued evidence of the priority to obtain “control” over the public sand beach for gaming site approval.
Watson called on the Legislature to reaffirm the State’s ownership, management, and control of and over the state-owned Public Trust Tidelands, including the public sand beach in Harrison County.
“As the legislatively delegated trustee agent for the State’s Public Trust Tidelands and a Gulf Coast native, I strive to protect the Trust and ensure its benefit to all Mississippians, and the RW Development situation is no different,” Secretary Watson said.
According to the approval granted by the Gaming Commission, the company has three years to present final plans to the Commission.
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