Barbour asks Choctaws to cancel Jones Co. casino

Published 1:27 pm Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gov. Haley Barbour on Tuesday asked the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to withdraw plans to build a casino in Jones County.

Barbour called the proposed facility a “slot parlor” and said it could hurt the health and safety of local residents and jeopardize tortoises, birds, snakes and plants in the Pine Belt region.

“The expansion of gaming in this way is inconsistent with the policy of the State to develop destination casino gambling in Mississippi, whether on tribal lands or in state waters,” Barbour said in a letter to the Choctaw “miko,” or chief, Beasley Denson.

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The governor’s office distributed the letter with a news release.

The Choctaw Tribal Council voted June 8 to put a 27,000-square-foot building with about 500 to 700 slot machines and a snack shop on a tribal-owned site near Sandersville.

Barbour, a Republican, said he’s asking Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, to take legal action to try to block the development.

Warren Strain, spokesman for the Choctaws, said it would be “inappropriate” to comment on the governor’s request because of the potential of a lawsuit by the state. The attorney general’s office said Hood was researching the matter.

The development would be the Choctaws’ second gambling site in Mississippi. It operates two adjoining casinos on a resort in Neshoba County, near Philadelphia. The resort is about 80 miles north of the proposed development in Jones County.

The Choctaw casinos are not regulated by the state. Mississippi has 30 state-regulated casinos that operate along the waters of the Mississippi River and along the waters and a short distance inland on the Gulf Coast.

Several other elected officials, including Republicans U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper and Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, have spoken out against expansion of Choctaw gambling.

Barbour said Jones County would not receive any tax revenue from the casino but would have extra traffic on its roads and bridges. He cited the 8-7 vote by the Tribal Council on the Jones County project.

“While I respect the sovereignty of the Choctaw nation and have no intention of interfering with its internal governance, it appears to me imprudent and inconsistent with past practice for the MCBI to pursue its current plan in Jones County when obviously it is not fully endorsed by the tribe,” Barbour wrote to Denson.

The Choctaws own about 35,000 acres in Mississippi. The tribe has eight communities in 10 counties.