|By Tom Wilemon, The Sun Herald, Biloxi, Miss.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
May 20, 2005 - BILOXI -- Havana Casino would bring Vegas-styled weddings to Biloxi in a $250 million resort proposed for the tip of the Biloxi peninsula.
The developers cleared the first hurdle toward making the project a reality Thursday morning when the Mississippi Gaming Commission approved 10 acres on Clay Point, owned by Ray Sims, as a legal gambling site.
The Cuban-themed resort would include a wedding chapel, a 500-room hotel with 35 suites, a 60,000-square-foot casino, restaurants, a theater, a nightclub and a recording studio.
Construction may begin in September, said David Cacci, president of the development arm of Onnam Entertainment.
"When we open up in the later part of 2006, it will be complete," Cacci said. "I don't believe in piecemealing. You have to provide a comprehensive resort escape for our guests."
This is Onnam Entertainment's first casino venture, but its core team has years of experience in the business. It is headed by Chief Executive Officer Sandra Manno, a former nun and the former mayor of Marlton, N.J. She previously worked as vice president and assistant to the chairman of Resorts International in the U.S. and Caribbean. Cacci is the former president MGM's New York-New York/Las Vegas.
The plans for the resort were designed by Francis Xavier Dumont, an architect based in Las Vegas who designed the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, Cacci said.
The casino would have 1,600 slot machines and 40 table games. No decision has been made on whether to offer a poker room.
"It will have a high-end restaurant on the top of the hotel," Cacci said. "We will have two high-end restaurants off the casino on the main floor. We will have a buffet with seating for 400. We will also have a theater that seats 1,500."
Biloxi is fast emerging as a national destination for casino tourists, he said.
"We've researched the market for approximately the last three years . . . We want to be a part of it," Cacci said.
Developers will have to appear before the Gaming Commission again before construction may start. They also must negotiate a lease of state Tidelands with Secretary of State Eric Clark.
The Havana Casino would be north of the Palace Casino at the end of 5th Street.
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