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Dec. 31--GULFPORT -- The Coast is one step closer to getting another casino after the Mississippi Gaming Commission approved plans Monday.

The crowd inside City Hall erupted into applause as the motion was made to OK the Hemingway Casino and Resort next to Jones Park.

A day before the Dec. 31 deadline, the commission held a special meeting to give development company Rotate Black another chance to show adequate funding for the $112 million project.

"I think the word of the day is 'finally,'" said Mayor Billy Hewes. "It's been a long time coming and sometimes it takes a good while to make sure something is fully vetted."

The company initially brought a $77 million project before the commission in 2012, and was told to increase the size. It took three tries to get plans approved.

"Third time's a charm," said Rotate Black CEO John Paulsen.

Commission chairman John Hairston said it's more like the fifth time.

"We've tabled it, we've denied it, we approved it, we extended it, and now we're approving it," he said.

The company missed the first deadline April 17. In August 2012, the commission gave Rotate Black authorization to proceed, contingent on proof the developer has the money to build and operate the casino. In January, the company asked for more time, and the commission approved a 90-day extension and a final deadline in April.

Hairston said Monday the approval comes with stipulations. The minimum 205-room hotel must be rated four stars, financing documentation must be complete and outstanding balances paid by April 1, and an operator's license must be obtained within 90 days of approval.

Paulsen said all the financing is in place.

The last-minute meeting was called just before new rules on casino construction go into effect.

"The sun rises Wednesday on a new regulation in place, so the project as purported today would not be approved," Hairston said.

Beginning in 2014 all future casinos must meet bigger specifications. The commission approved new rules earlier this year requiring greater investment and minimum square footage.

"The reason for the expectations of larger operations -- not just casinos but also amenities -- was the desire to make the overall pie bigger and not just add additional slot machines and tables to compete for what could be a diminishing amount of revenue," he said.

Those rules were supposed to go into effect in April, but the commission pushed it back after receiving requests for extensions. One other project, the Scarlet Pearl in D'Iberville, has been approved during the extension.

"This has been a challenging project, to say the least," Hairston said. "There has been much debate, pro and con, and primarily the con has been all around the size and scale of the project."

Final plans for the Hemingway Resort call for a 205-room luxury hotel, a 35,000-square-foot casino, a 4,000-square-foot swimming pool plus three restaurants and decks overlooking the water next to Jones Park.

The theme of the casino would be based on the life of author Ernest Hemingway.

"If we can make it all come together it will bring a lot of jobs, a lot of revenue and a lot of enthusiasm to an already vibrant part of our city," Hewes said.

Gene McCarlie, who has been in the gaming industry for more than 50 years -- including in Las Vegas -- and got his start on the Coast, said he thinks the project will be successful.

"Everything about it will be good for the Coast," he said. "Competition makes for good business."

Paulsen said preliminary work in the property should begin in February.

Mary Perez, Sun Herald staff writer, contributed to this report.

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