Elected officials oppose Choctaw casino expansion

Published 2:27 pm Thursday, July 15, 2010

Gov. Haley Barbour and six other Republican statewide elected officials are asking the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians to drop plans to expand tribal gaming into Jones County.

While the officials can make the request, they cannot block the proposed development because the state does not regulate Choctaws’ casinos.

The officials sent a letter Tuesday to the Choctaws’ “miko,” or chief, Beasley Denson.

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Those signing it with Barbour were Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney, Auditor Stacey Pickering, Treasurer Tate Reeves and Agriculture Commissioner Lester Spell.

The Choctaws have ignored similar pleas, including one last month from Barbour and opposition from the Jones County Board of Supervisors and some local officials and residents.

Choctaws spokesman Warren Strain said Tuesday he had not seen the latest letter and could not immediately comment. He has said the tribe expects the casino to be built. Strain has said the decision is rooted in the Choctaws’ philosophy of self-determination and is in the best interest of the tribe.

In a June 22 letter, Barbour asked Denson to withdraw the Choctaws’ plans for the casino in Jones County. Barbour also asked Attorney General Jim Hood, a Democrat, to take legal action to try to block the development.

Hood is the only statewide elected official who didn’t sign Tuesday’s letter. The attorney general’s spokeswoman, Jan Schaefer, said Tuesday that Hood has no comment on the casino and that the “attorneys are still researching the issue.”

The Tribal Council approved the casino near Sandersville in an 8-7 vote on June 8.

The proposed Bogue Homa casino would be the first casino built outside the tribal headquarters in Neshoba County. The tribe plans a 27,000-square-foot casino in Sandersville, northeast of Laurel.

The Choctaw casinos operate under a 1992 Tribal Compact negotiated by then-Gov. Kirk Fordice, a Republican.

Barbour’s office distributed Tuesday’s letter with a news release. In the letter, the officials contend the casino “will result in an economic drain on Jones County and the surrounding areas, which will necessarily have to shoulder the financial and personal burden of negative impacts resulting from this facility.”

“This proposed gambling facility fails to meet the policy of the state to develop destination casino gambling, unlike the MBCI’s developments in Neshoba County which provided the type of amenities — such as a golf course, water park, and restaurants needed to ensure the developments are consistent with state policies,” the letter says.

The Golden Moon casino was opened by the Choctaws in Philadelphia in 2002. It became the tribe’s second casino to open in Philadelphia, the first being the Silver Star in 1994.

Mississippi has 30 state-regulated casinos that operate along the waters of the Mississippi River and along the Gulf Coast.