Barbour on Choctaws’ coastal casino plan: ‘It won’t happen’

Published 3:33 pm Friday, October 26, 2007

Gov. Haley Barbour says even if Jackson County residents say yes to a proposed Choctaw casino in a nonbinding referendum next month, he’ll use his power to block the project.

“As long as I’m governor, it won’t happen,” Barbour told WLOX-TV in Biloxi this week.

Barbour, a Republican, is seeking a second term. He faces Democrat John Arthur Eaves Jr. in the Nov. 6 general election. Eaves also has says he opposes any expansion of gambling in Mississippi.

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The ballots in Jackson County on Nov. 6 will include the question of whether the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians should be able to develop a $375 million casino resort on 100 acres of tribal land off Mississippi Highway 57 near Ocean Springs.

Regardless of what Jackson County voters say, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the governor have the power to decide whether to approve the Choctaw project.

The Choctaw casino would not be overseen by the Mississippi Gaming Commission. Casinos in neighboring Harrison County are operated by private companies and are regulated by the state.

“It is absolutely not fair to have a casino in Jackson County that doesn’t operate under the same rules as Harrison County. That’s one of the reasons I’m against it. But I’m also against expanding gaming beyond the counties where it is now,” Barbour said.

In 1991, Mississippi legalized state-regulated dockside casinos along the Mississippi River and the Gulf Coast. The state law gives residents in each county the option of voting to allow casinos to operate.

Two of the coastal counties, Harrison and Hancock, have casinos. Jackson County voted against gaming. The latest Jackson County vote was in 1992.

Supporters of the Choctaw plan say the casino would create the economic boost Jackson County needs. The Choctaws operate two casinos and a resort in central Mississippi, outside Philadelphia.

Barbour said he believes Jackson County residents and the Bureau of Indian Affairs will vote against the Choctaws’ coastal plan.

“If for some stupid reason the Bureau of Indian Affairs agrees to it, I will not approve it,” Barbour said.