Opposition prepares for Choctaw case

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, October 12, 2006

The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs plans a public hearing on Oct. 18 in Ocean Springs on a proposal by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to put a casino in Jackson County.

The tribe is required by federal law to hold the meeting to determine what kind of environmental impact their casino resort would have on 100 acres they own in Jackson County near Mississippi 57 and Interstate 10.

During the meeting, residents are invited to give their opinions.

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The Bureau of Indian Affairs, the federal agency that will determine whether the Choctaws can build their casino, advertised the meeting in the legal ads section of the Oct. 4 edition of The Mississippi Press.

Jackson County Supervisor John McKay, who represents the area where the Choctaws want to build their casino, said he hasn’t heard from the tribe since Chief Phillip Martin asked Jackson County supervisors in May to hold a local referendum on the issue.

“I’m displeased with the way they’re going about it,” McKay said Tuesday. “I don’t believe our board was notified. They notified the city, apparently, because they’re using the civic center, but they should have notified the county.”

The Choctaws’ casino would be built outside the city limits of Ocean Springs.

Coast Businesses for Fair Play, a recently formed coalition that includes several coast casino executives, is filing an objection to the meeting.

“This announcement comes as a total shock to the people of the coast,” Adam Lee, a consultant for the group, said. “The people of Jackson County and the coast are just beginning to recover from Katrina. We can’t believe that now someone is trying to take advantage of this disaster by attempting to force an untaxed and unregulated casino on a county that has twice voted down taxed and regulated gaming. The two weeks’ notice appears to be an attempt to thwart public input.”

Louie Miller, head of Mississippi’s Sierra Club, said most of the federal agencies he has dealt with notify the public of meetings 30 days before they are held.

“I’m hearing this second and third-hand and realize that we have eight days to organize,” Miller said. “This is kind of like trying to boot-scoot something through without the public knowing about it.”

In addition to publishing legal notices, federal agencies usually send a notice of public hearings to groups like the Sierra Club, Miller said.

“For an environmental impact study, it’s common sense they would send something to the Sierra Club, who they know does that kind of watch-dogging,” he said. “It’s not required, but it’s something agencies do to be aboveboard.”

BIA spokeswoman Nedra Darling said federal law does not specify a time frame in which her agency should notify the public of scoping meetings. The agency usually gives residents about two weeks’ notice of public meetings, she said.

Coast Businesses for Fair Play wants the Choctaws to pay the same 12 percent taxes on generated revenues that the state’s other casinos are required to pay.

Under federal law, tribes are not required to pay such taxes.

“Nobody’s got any problem with any of the Native American (casinos), as long as they’re on the same playing field as us,” Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino Resort, said. “That’s like Broome’s Grocery saying, You’re going to let a Wal-Mart come in? And they’re not paying taxes?”’

At least a half dozen pastors who recently formed Jackson County United for Families say gambling addictions lead to suicide, crime and the loss of jobs.