Ameristar given tentative green light to take over Mojito Pointe - KPLC 7 News, Lake Charles, Louisiana

Ameristar Casinos given tentative green light to take over Mojito Pointe

LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) -

Just last month Creative Casinos CEO Dan Lee requested a thirty day extension to begin construction on the Mojito Pointe project in Lake Charles.

Thursday, at the Louisiana Gaming Control Board meeting, Lee requested another extension, but this time it was to transfer the project, which some do not support.

Ameristar Casinos plans to purchase Creative Casinos of Louisiana, which is the Mojito Pointe project in Lake Charles.

At the meeting, the board voted to tentatively approve the transfer of the state's only remaining gaming license, but not before a lengthy discussion between the board, casino officials and several people in attendance.

The transfer is considered a buyout.

"I'm relieved," said Lee. "'I'm just trying to do that right thing. This is the best way to get a bigger and better resort built in Lake Charles."

It could mean a much larger resort for the Lake Charles area. The number of rooms is expected to increase from 400 to 700 among other changes. The project promises 1,500 construction jobs and 1,500 permanent jobs with the resort is built.

Lee said gathering the funds for the Mojito Pointe project has been a difficult process, and selling to Ameristar was the best option.

"It's really a win for the city of Lake Charles and a win for the state," said Lee. "I have kind of a heavy heart in it because I've spent a lot of time in Lake Charles and I won't be overseeing the development."

The board's complete approval will follow an investigation, but Troy Stremming, senior vice president of government relations and community affairs with Ameristar says that's not an issue.

"We're very excited with the decision that they made to approve the transaction pending the investigation," said Stremming. "As I told you earlier, we operate in several jurisdictions around the country and we've never had any licensing issues. We're very optimistic that the licensing approval will go well."

When Creative Casinos first acquired Louisiana's only remaining gaming license, other companies were competing for it. They spoke before the board Thursday, questioning the fairness of the transfer. They felt Creative Casinos was deciding who would receive the license rather than the Gaming Board. The representatives reminded the board that Creative Casinos won the license, not Ameristar. The board listened, but requested they come back after the investigation is completed.

Officials with Ameristar understand the Lake Charles area is ready for something to be done with the project.

"I think we will be a breath of fresh air," said Stremming. "I know this is a project that the community and the state of Louisiana have really pushed to try to get done and hopefully with the approval today within 120 days we will be moving dirt. We will start construction. And we'll finally bring this project to fruition."

Lee hand selected Ameristar to take over the project. Ameristar's founder, Craig Neilson developed the company despite being a quadriplegic; he was a friend of lee's.

"I knew him and it was kind of like there is a side to me that said you know if I'm not building this, his company is," said Lee. "That feels good."

The investigation being conducted by the board is standard procedure to ensure the transfer of the license is legal and that Ameristar is the direction they want to go. Ameristar has several casino locations throughout the country. The locations are custom built to suit the area they are located in.

If the board does not approve the transfer, which Lee says is highly unlikely, they said Creative Casinos must be prepared to go the project alone, which would mean back to the fund gathering for Mojito Pointe.

If approved, Stremming says Ameristar can begin breaking ground by July 20 and have the project completed within 24 months of the start date.

Copyright 2012 KPLC. All rights reserved.

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