Some folks in Louisiana might remember Ray Wooldridge for having helped bring the NBA back to New Orleans.
However, it appears Wooldridge will not be known for bringing a casino to nearby Biloxi. Not any time soon, anyway.
That’s because the Mississippi state Supreme Court rejected Wooldridge’s appeal of state regulators’ decision preventing him from building a casino in the Harrison County seat.
Regulators withhold approval for proposed casino site a third time
Wooldridge co-owned the original Charlotte Hornets when the franchise relocated to New Orleans in 2002. He sold his share of ownership in the team shortly after the move. In 2013, the team changed its name to the Pelicans.
Starting in the late 2000s, the entrepreneur began trying to obtain approval to build a casino in East Biloxi. The casino would complement other developments of his in the city, including the South Beach Biloxi hotel, which opened in 2008.
Wooldridge’s proposed $700 million resort would include a casino, a 1,300-room hotel and a 100,000-square-foot conference center.
But the Mississippi Gaming Commission rejected the proposed site — first in 2008, then again in 2017, and once more in 2019. Regulators’ objections stemmed from the site being located too far inland.
Repeated appeals fail for Wooldridge
Mississippi gambling law originally allowed casinos only to be located on the Mississippi River or along the Gulf Coast.
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the state amended the law to allow casinos a short distance inland. Resorts, though, still had to touch water. As the Biloxi Sun-Herald explained, casinos still needed to be built within 800 feet of the mean high water line (MHWL).
According to regulators, the Biloxi location proposed by Wooldridge and his company, RW Development LLC, did not meet that criteria. The company disagrees with regulators’ interpretation of the location of the MHWL.
RW Development appealed the regulators’ latest ruling, but a county court sided with the gaming commission. That prompted a another appeal by Wooldridge’s company, this time to the state Supreme Court. Unfortunately for Wooldridge, that court upheld the lower court’s ruling.
While waiting and hoping for approval for the casino project, Wooldridge built the Big Play Entertainment Center at the same location in Biloxi. The family-based center features miniature golf, laser tag and a go-kart track.