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New Lowndes casino waiting on opening

As a bingo bill moved closer to passing in the Alabama Legislature on Tuesday, a second Lowndes County casino is nearing completion.

Workers laid sod Tuesday morning around new construction at Southern Star Entertainment Center on U.S. 80, less than a mile from White Hall Gaming Center, which closed after the Governor’s Task Force on Gambling threatened a second raid recently.

The new gaming center is owned by White Hall Enrichment Advancement Team, known as WHEAT, according to the casino’s general manager Leslie Clark.

“I work for them,” Clark said of the charity, referring other questions to directors of WHEAT.

Clark of Biloxi, Miss., said he was hired recently as general manager of the new casino. He has spent 20 years in the gaming industry at casinos in Las Vegas and in Mississippi. For eight years he managed Casino Magic in Biloxi.

Clark said Southern Star has no firm opening date.

“We’re waiting to see what’s going to happen in the legislature,” he said.

That wait might not be a long one.

A state house committee approved the bill to regulate, tax and legalize electronic bingo games in the state Tuesday.

The committee vote moves the bill to the full House of Representatives for consideration.

The bill has already passed in the state Senate.

If the House approves the bill, the proposal will go to Alabama voters for a statewide referendum in November.

In Lowndes County that could mean workers returning to White Hall Entertainment and more workers getting an opportunity to work at Southern Star, which is advertising jobs on Web sites, such as CareerBuilder.com. Southern Star also held a job fair last week at Jackson-Steele Community Center, a few miles from the new casino’s construction site. Clark declined to discuss the job fair, saying the charity’s board of directors would have to discuss details.

The nonprofit is registered with the Lowndes County Probate Office and lists Katie Welch Jackson, Elizabeth Davis and Ester N. Jackson as members of the charity’s board of trustees. However, reporters for Boone News Wire could not reach any WHEAT members for comment.

Instead, the casino is listed as a foreign corporation, Southern Star LLC, out of Las Vegas. It was incorporated in August 2008 and Leslie Clark is listed as its resident agent.

The Nevada Secretary of State’s office shows Southern Star Entertainment Center’s registered agent as Gregory Wright, vice president and chief financial officer. No stock records were available for this company.

Officers of the business are the manager of Gaughan Gaming LLC in Las Vegas and the manager of Silver Slipper Gaming LLC in Las Vegas. Gaughan Gaming is a family-operated gaming business. Its principals, according to its Web site are brothers John Gaughan and Mike Gaughan Jr.

John Gaughn developed Las Vegas Dissemination Co. in 1988, which has become one of the largest providers of pari-mutuel wagering and horse racing simulcasts in Nevada.

Mike Gaughan Jr.’s experience is in casino. He has managed Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino and South Point Hotel, Casino and Spa.

In July 2006 Gaughan Gaming assisted in the opening of Native Lights Casino in Newkirk, Okla., for the Tonkawa tribe. In July 2007 the brothers helped the tribe remodel and reopen Tonkawa Casino.

Francine Mazella, vice president of marketing and human resources for Gaughan Gaming, refused to comment on their involvement with Southern Star or why the group’s president, Mike Gaughan Jr., was present at the April 7 job fair.

The Silver Slipper, listed as the other manager of the Lowndes County based casino, was the first land-based casino on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, located in Bay St. Louis.

The Mississippi Secretary of State’s office lists the Silver Slipper as a foreign limited liability company in good standing since November 2004. Documents show the address as Pasadena,Calif.

Documents also show Loren S. Ostrow as a member of the board of directors.

Ostrow is an attorney, who once practiced law with Paul R. Alanis, also listed as a member of the board of directors. Alanis is chairman of Silver Slipper and a casino veteran, who at one time was president of Horseshoe Gaming and CEO of Pinnacle Entertainment.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ALSO CONTRIBUTED TO THIS STORY.