Vicksburg, Miss., Casino, Golf Resort Project Called Off

Wed February 13, 2008 - Southeast Edition
CEG



VICKSBURG, Miss. (AP) Plans for a casino and golf resort in Vicksburg have been dropped.

“We just looked at conditions and the market and decided not to do it,” said CEO Paul “Sonny” Marshall of American Gaming Enterprises.

Marshall also said the death of landowner and resort promoter Paul Bunge in December hampered the project.

All deposits related to the company’s initial contact with Bunge have been returned, Marshall said.

“We’re basically out of it,” he said.

The Las Vegas-based company had entered talks with Bunge, who lived in Castle Rock, Colo., last summer to buy out the gaming portion of a $190 million development planned on former Vicksburg Chemical land south of the Mississippi River bridges. If built, it would have been the city’s sixth casino.

As recently as September, American Gaming principals had been optimistic about the continued growth of the market, citing expansion upriver at Ameristar and construction of the Riverwalk Casino virtually next door as reasons to get into the local market.

Marshall said American Gaming still plans to move ahead with its other plans in Cripple Creek, Colo., and in Natchez, where developers have pitched a Las Vegas-style riverfront casino at the bottom of Roth Hill Road to include two restaurants and other additions such as a walkway and a park.

“We’re in a proposed joint venture with the Lane Company,” Marshall said.

Lane officials struck a deal in 2006 with Natchez officials to pay about $1 million annually for use of the riverfront property.

Bunge was originally deeded the 480 acres of hills and hollows in Vicksburg in 2006 by the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality. The sale was approved on the condition developers would pay for an $8 million cleanup of about 20 acres separate from the casino development said to be contaminated due to chemical plant operations.

The plant site is still viable for industry, but Bunge’s plan included promoting other portions of the tract for homes and shopping areas in addition to the golf course and riverside casino. Where those plans stand remains uncertain.

Marshal said downturns in the credit market and the national economy coupled with a leveling-off of post-Katrina business for Mississippi River casinos contributed to the company’s decision to abandon its Vicksburg plans about 30 days before Bunge’s death.

A fifth casino remains under construction in Vicksburg. The $100 million Riverwalk complex next to Rainbow is on track to open in November.

Expansions of local casinos include ongoing work at Ameristar, where a $98 million makeover to its gaming site, parking arrangement and other amenities is expected to be completed during the second quarter of this year. DiamondJacks, formerly Isle of Capri, has promised more renovation to its facility.

Horizon is the fourth casino in Vicksburg.