Video: Storm-damaged casinos seek dry land

By Correspondent
NBC News
updated 9/29/2005 7:40:25 PM ET 2005-09-29T23:40:25

Near the water's edge in Biloxi, huge floating casinos now sit high and dry — tossed ashore by Hurricane Katrina's powerful storm surge.

Under a state law passed 15 years ago, all Gulf Coast casinos had to be on the water, away from neighborhoods. But with nearly all 13 casinos here now badly damaged or destroyed, Mississippi is rethinking the rules.

“We will fail if we don't allow the casinos to come on shore,” says Republican Gov. Haley Barbour.

In a special session Thursday, the Mississippi Legislature debated a plan to rebuild the lucrative casinos on land.

“If it doesn't pass,” says Beverly Martin of the Mississippi Casino Operators' Association, “then it's going to be devastating even more. It’s going to be a second Hurricane Katrina in the form of economic devastation.”

But the plan is strongly opposed by Mississippi's powerful religious leaders.

“The more they become woven into the fabric of the community,” says Churck Register,  senior pastor at the Gulfport First Baptist Church, “the more we see teenagers becoming addicted and families being dissolved.”

But supporters argue that casinos provide some 15,000 jobs.

Casinos here also pay about $500,000 a day in taxes, generating nearly 25 percent of the state's annual income.

Despite the religious concerns, many say that if the casinos aren't rebuilt and made to last, Mississippi will have lost a golden opportunity to secure its economic future.

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