|By Mary Perez, The Sun
HeraldMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Aug. 17, 2012--JACKSON -- Now that Rotate Black has state Gaming Commission approval to proceed, the company hopes to break ground on a casino at the Gulfport Harbor within the next eight weeks and open in about 14 months.
The project won unanimous approval from the Gaming Commission on Thursday. Twice before the commission told Rotate Black to increase the size of the resort and the investment and to bring something unique that will grow the market.
Since April the project has grown from $77 million as originally proposed to $112 million. The casino tripled in size to 34,335 square feet and the hotel is twice as big with 205 rooms, including 20 suites with balconies. Other amenities are a 4,000-square-foot swimming pool with cabanas and a swim-up bar flanked by waterfalls, three restaurants and exterior decks overlooking the water.
Dual Cooper, president of Rotate Black, said it wasn't easy to raise
the money to build the casino and then finance the additional size and amenities the Gaming Commission wanted. "We just basically got our commitment last week," he said. Funding will come from an $80.9 million investment from Brigade Capital and $20.9 million from equity investors.
Cooper said the Gaming Commission's insistence on a larger investment will help in the long run. The resort will be built in two phases rather than three as originally proposed. It is expected to create 650 jobs.
Commissioner Jerry St. Pe said the approval process for the casino took a little longer, but resulted in a better casino for a prime location. "I think it's a good project and I think it will work."
What pushed the casino into being acceptable to the Gaming Commission was a letter of intent Rotate Black signed with Hemingway Hotel and Resorts to operate a luxury hotel at the resort. It will be one of the first hotels in the new brand based on the life of author Ernest Hemingway.
Commissioner John Hairston said a four-star hotel adds value to the overall tourist community. "It will indeed be that something new," he said.
The Gaming Commission intends to hold the developer to the additional commitments made to the project. Hairston said he is only one vote on the commission, but he won't approve the license for the casino until that four star rating is earned.
The casino will be the 13th on the Coast and as now proposed will be the seventh largest, said Hairston. "We started out with a dilapidated vessel parked up next to a bulkhead in what may be the finest harbor on the Gulf of Mexico," he said, referring to Rotate Black's original intent to open a casino in a remodeled cruise ship.
He said the project now is within the boundaries of what the Gaming Commission required, "albeit the lower end of the boundaries. The stated number of rooms is 200. The project is 205."
While the developers start construction, the next step in the approval process is finding of suitability, during which the Gaming Commission investigates the backgrounds and business dealings of the investors, owners and key employees.
Rotate Black chairman John Paulsen was stuck at the airport in Atlanta and couldn't attend Thursday's meeting, said Thomas Shepherd, the company's attorney for Rotate Black.
Cooper was asked if he thought Paulsen's bankruptcy and past business dealings detailed in an article in the Sun Herald could hinder Paulsen's finding of suitability.
"I think he will be fine," said Cooper.
The next meeting of the Gaming Commission is Sept. 20 at Beau Rivage Resort and Casino in Biloxi. It will be the last meeting for St. Pe, who has served on the commission for eight years. He will be succeeded by Wally Carter of Ocean Springs.
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