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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 12, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Mississippi reconsiders where to build casinos

Have you ever wondered why Mississippi's gambling casinos are all built over water? Well, Hurricane Katrina is reviving the debate that put them there.

The storm heavily damaged Biloxi's dockside casinos, and some are saying it doesn't make sense to rebuild them in such vulnerable spots. "It's a public safety issue," says Gary Loveman, chairman and chief executive of Harrah's, a casino company.

But public safety was not the major concern 15 years ago when Mississippi lawmakers legalized casinos. The Associated Press reports that "an uneasy compromise . . . confined the glitzy casinos to touristy parts of the state already known for tolerating vice — the Mississippi River, where raucous steamboats once plied the waters; and the Gulf Coast, where illegal gambling had long been treated with a wink and nod. The arrangement kept casinos away from the churchgoing masses in cities and rural hamlets further inland."

Any effort to change the law will bring out people who want to keep gambling from spreading or to outlaw it altogether. The latter is unlikely because the coast and river casinos account for about 5 percent of the state budget and thousands of Mississippians work in casinos and their associated hotels.

If you're going to have casinos, it does make sense to build them in a safer place.

Mississippi's debate will interest Alabamians — both those who oppose gambling and those who'd like to see it available closer than, say, Tunica. If Mississippi makes it possible for casinos to locate close to more Alabamians, this will increase pressure on Alabama to legalize some form of gambling, whether it's casinos or, more likely, a lottery.

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