Mississippi Choctaws give details on $375M coast casino

Published 6:41 pm Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Mississippi Band of Choctaws has revealed details of a $375 million casino resort that could rival other large gambling properties on the Gulf Coast.

The resort, planned on 100 acres of land the Choctaws own along Mississippi 57 near Interstate 10, would include a 1,100-room hotel with an indoor and outdoor pool, 15,000-square- foot spa and fitness center and a 50,000-square-foot exhibition hall.

The resort would have 2,350 slot machines, 70 table games, a 15 poker and 40-seat keno parlor and a 400-seat buffet restaurant. It would also feature 25,000 square feet of retail shops and there would be parking for 4,500 vehicles and 30 buses.

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In addition, the project would have a recreational vehicle park with space for 150 vehicles, along with a store and outdoor pool.

Choctaw officials also provided details of the estimated economic impact on the area if their plans are approved by the governor and the federal government.

An estimated 2,800 full-time jobs, with a total annual payroll of $71 million, would be created as a result of the casino resort, according to the Choctaws.

Around 3,800 construction jobs would be available with a $115 million payroll, the tribe said. Overall, the Choctaws estimate that 4,230 indirect and direct jobs, with an estimated payroll of $110 million, would be created as a result of the project.

More than half of the 3,700 employees at the Choctaws Pearl River Resort in Neshoba County are not members of the band.

Tribal Chief Phillip Martin issued a statement taking issue with critics of his plan. Several Harrison County casino executives have questioned how much the tribes casino resort would help Jackson County, since the Choctaws are not federally required to pay state taxes on the revenues generated from their casinos.

Coast Businesses for Fair Play says the Choctaws should pay the same 12 percent taxes on generated revenues that the state’s non-Indian casinos are required to pay.

“The ongoing suggestion by our opponents that the tribe is not willing to pay local governments is simply a distortion by opponents who fear competition,” Martin said in the statement. “As we have stated previously, federal law prohibits the tribe from paying state or local taxes on revenue generated for a tribal casino.

“Quite simply, this is because tribal casinos and other tribal businesses are intended to compensate for the fact that tribes historically have very little taxable wealth to fund the enormous responsibilities we have for the housing, schooling and the health care of our people.”

The federal government allows tribes to make payments in lieu of taxes, which the Choctaws do for Neshoba County. The payments help Neshoba County compensate for the casinos impact on roads and services such as fire and police.

The tribe reimburses the county for the cost of materials to widen and pave roads, while the county pays for the equipment and labor.

In their current agreement with Neshoba County, the Choctaws agreed to reimburse the county $500,000 for materials needed to make road improvements.

“It’s a good situation for both parties and for everybody involved,” Neshoba County administrator Benjie Coats said in a June interview with The Mississippi Press.

As consideration of this project progresses, the tribe “will work with the appropriate federal, state and local authorities to determine what payments the tribe can and should make to the state and local governments and how these payments can best be structured and allocated in accordance with federal law,” Martin said.

A federally-required public meeting on the potential environmental impact of the resort will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 18 at the Ocean Springs Civic Center.