Casino ship could dock at Gulfport Michigan firm leases old site of Marine Life

          The former Marine Life property, pictured at center before Hurricane Katrina, is included in six acres a casino company has signed a contract to lease in Gulfport’s harbor. Rotate Black Inc. hopes to start operations by mid-fall aboard a 240-foot ship, with plans to build a land-based casino resort.

GULFPORT

A former Coast casino executive hopes to return with a new gambling ship docked in Gulfport’s harbor, with eventual plans for a land-based casino resort at the former location of Marine Life and Misco Marine.

Others, including Donald Trump, have proposed casino projects for the site, which have failed to materialize.

However, Dual Cooper said his company has secured a ship designed as a casino and signed a contract to lease the six acres. Rotate Black Inc., a Michigan company, must still secure a gaming license and site approval from the state Gaming Commission and win Gulfport’s approval for its plans.

Cooper, Rotate Black’s president and chief operating officer, said the company hopes to open in October or November.

Mayor George Schloegel said he believes the project will be good for the city, as long as Rotate Black follows through on plans for the land-based casino and hotel.

“This is really in the Gaming Commission’s hands,” Schloegel said.

“If it does get authorized, we have asked that, whatever they do, they do it based on expanding the market so we don’t just split the existing market. To do that requires the construction of a major hotel of about 500 or 550 rooms. If they’re able to do that, we think that’s a great addition to our community.”

Schloegel said buildings on the site will have to be elevated to 25 feet above sea level to meet FEMA requirements for storm-surge protection.

“We’re excited to know that Gulfport is going to be in a position to have additional gaming,” he said. “There is some synergy when multiple gaming facilities come to an area. That would be a good thing if we could expand that market.”

Cooper headed Grand Casino Gulfport and Biloxi when they opened, then became CEO of Casino Magic Corp. before moving on to other ventures. “I’m really thrilled to be back on the Coast,” he said.

Cooper said he most recently turned around a casino operation in California, increasing profitability by 40 percent.

“I feel the economy is coming back, slowly, but it’s coming back,” Cooper said. “We’re going to have to get confidence back in the market. I think the opportunity is really there to do something.”

He and his partner, John Paulsen of Michigan, have not settled on a name for their proposed Gulfport casino. Paulsen has worked in the telecom industry, Cooper said.

The 240-foot ship their company is buying was once owned by Harrah’s Casino. Cooper said Rotate Black bought the ship out of bankruptcy after another company spent about $40 million on renovations.

“It’s a beautiful ship,” Cooper said. The ship will be brought to Biloxi’s Back Bay to be repainted, he said. It has two restaurants aboard.

Councilwoman Libby Milner Roland, whose ward includes the harbor and adjacent downtown, said the casino will build momentum already generated by renovation of downtown buildings, sidewalks and streets.

By ANITA LEE – calee@sunherald.com
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