JACKSON, Miss. (AP) – Mississippi lawmakers sent Gov. Haley Barbour a bill Monday to let coastal casinos move a short distance onto dry land.

The vote came a month after Hurricane Katrina smashed many of Mississippi’s floating casinos. Barbour pushed for the legislation in a special session dealing with hurricane recovery, saying the storm showed that the casinos would be safer on shore.

The state Senate passed the bill 29-21 on Monday. The House approved the measure last week.

Mississippi legalized casinos in 1990 but said they must be on barges floating on either the Gulf of Mexico or the Mississippi River. The bill sent to Barbour does not allow the river casinos to move onto dry land.

After the vote, coast business people and civic leaders exchanged hugs and high-fives in a Capitol hallway.

While some gambling companies have said they plan to rebuild over water, others want to go on shore so their buildings will be sturdier and easier to insure.

“This means a new beginning for the Gulf Coast,” said Laura Hasty of Biloxi, owner of an advertising agency with several casinos as clients.

“This is the hope that we’ve needed since Aug. 29.”

Before Katrina, the coastal gambling houses employed about 14,000 people and generated about $500,000 a day in state and local taxes. Thousands more people had jobs supplying goods or services to casinos.

The bill says casinos can move 800 feet on shore or – in Biloxi’s Harrison County only – to the southern boundary of U.S. 90, a major east-west route that follows the beach in much of the county.

This is the first serious effort to allow blackjack tables and slot machines to move even a short distance onto land.

The vote Monday came after two hours of debate in which coast senators pleaded for a way to help their communities recover.

AP-ES-10-03-05 1823EDT


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