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Myriad plans mushroom to six casino properties

Memphis Business Journal - August 11, 2006 by Michael Sheffield

Myriad World Resorts' ambitious plan for a Tunica County casino resort has become even more ambitious with the announcement that the resort will include not one casino, but six.

Myriad plans to sell five parcels from its 540 acres in Tunica for the development of five other casinos.

Those parcels will include space for casinos and hotels ranging in size from 45,000 square feet to 75,000 square feet. The Myriad Casino itself will be 120,000 square feet. The total Myriad development includes plans for an enclosed 18-hole golf course, a 1,200-room hotel, a 375,000-square-foot convention center and a "snow park," which will feature artificial snow for year-round skiing.

Myriad's gargantuan development plan, which has led existing casino properties in Tunica to take a collective "wait and see" approach, has a few believers already.

Myriad is in the process of selling three of the parcels to High Plains Equity LLC, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa and Fort Berthold Indian Reservation for $40 million each. The Native American tribes are based in North Dakota.

Proceeds from all of the land sales, which could reach $200 million, will be funneled into Myriad's development, says Scott Hawrelechko, CEO of Myriad.

"Each casino purchaser is responsible for their own construction costs and each operator is planning a casino and a hotel component anticipated to be no less than $200 million each," he says. "This certainly adds to the cost of the project, but does not add to our costs."

Ken Davis, tribal chairman of Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, says that while his tribe is buying the land from Myriad, the Turtle Mountain casino will be a partnership between the two groups. He says the sale is scheduled to close in June 2007.

"We'd be one of the casinos with our own hotel and theme, but we'd stick with the overall botanical theme of Myriad," Davis says.

The Chippewas expansion into Tunica demonstrates their optimism of the project, he says.

"They're legitimate and bona fide developers," Davis says of Myriad.

Hawrelechko says the idea of having six casinos fills two needs in the market.

"First, we know the downside to the Tunica market is the vast distances between casinos," Hawrelechko says. "We feel this hurts the market because people have to drive between casinos. Our development solves this problem because we (will) have a cluster of casinos within walking distance. Second, we share in the revenue of the other casinos on our property to enhance our earnings."

The obvious question is whether or not Tunica can sustain five more casinos.

Denise von Herrmann, a University of Southern Mississippi professor and industry researcher who has published reports for the state of Mississippi on the gaming industry, says no.

Typically, she says, when a regular-sized casino enters a market, the existing casinos lose business and adjust accordingly. This scenario, however, is different.

"Five casinos is too much for short-term development in Tunica," she says. "One mega-casino could easily be absorbed into the market over time, but the big question is whether or not the existing casinos are afraid it'll be overbuilt or will bring more people. They are constantly researching the market and if they're not saying anything, they might know something we don't."

Davis says the introduction of an attraction like Myriad will be the secret weapon of the market and also be the difference between the market growing more or not.

"The existing market cannot absorb another complex of this size, so we'll have to create an additional attraction to expand the market," he says. "The initial plans from Myriad will be that kind of attraction. No one has ever built an indoor golf course and if that gets completed they can attract people from all over the world."

The indoor golf course has always been the most ambitious component of the Myriad project. But that component, says Webster Franklin, president and CEO of the Tunica Convention and Visitors' Bureau, is the key.

"They've always said this development will all take place at one time because they wanted to open it as one unique resort," he says. "If they stick to that, it'll be a success."

Franklin says any skepticism of Myriad's project is to be expected, but it wouldn't be the first time Tunica has faced skeptics.

"If someone said in 1991 we'd have casinos, hotels and golf courses, people would think we were crazy," he says. "One thing we've taught people is to never say never."

Myriad Botanical Resort

Proposed Tunica casino by Myriad World Resorts

Location: South of Hollywood Casino in Tunica

HQ: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

CEO: Scott Hawrelechko

Ticker symbol: MYRA.OB

Phone: (780) 431-0086

Web site: www.myriadworldresorts.com

As Printed at www.bizjournals.com

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