Mississippi Choctaws to vote on Jones County casino project

By Shelia Byrd
Jaskson, Mississippi (AP) May 2010

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is considering building a casino in Jones County, a development that would be the tribe’s second gambling area in the state.

Tribal spokesman Warren Strain said Friday the tribal council is tentatively set to vote on the proposed development May 19.

The site is located near Sandersville on the tribal-owned Bogue Homa community, one of 10 communities comprising the Choctaw reservation. Sandersville is about seven miles northeast of Laurel.

Strain said all that’s being considered now are about 500 to 700 slot machines and a snack shop in a 27,000-square-foot building. The casino would employ about 250 people. Strain said it would be about an $18 million investment for the Choctaws.

Strain said casino executives and Jones County officials met Thursday to discuss the project.

“The whole thing is still in the developmental stages,” Strain said. “This thing is literally changing as we’re going through.”

Strain said nothing would be concrete until the tribal council votes. The council is led by Chief Beasley Denson and 17 members of the tribe.

State Auditor Stacy Pickering, who lives in Jones County and attended Thursday’s meeting, said local officials raised questions about fire and police protection and infrastructure needs such as roads.

“They could not answer or shed any light on how those issues would be addressed,” Pickering said of the Choctaw representatives. “Of course, this was only the first meeting with local officials and I think they wanted to see what issues we would raise.”

Outside of local concerns, Pickering said there are questions about removing disposable income from the local economy, the impact on gaming interests on the Gulf Coast and what impact it would have on jobs.

The tribe operates two casinos near Philadelphia, Miss., although the Golden Moon Casino and Hotel is open only on weekends. The casinos are about 90 miles north of Laurel.

This would not be the first time the tribe attempted to expand its gaming interests beyond Philadelphia.

In 2008, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs rejected a proposal by the Choctaws to build a casino in coastal Jackson County on land owned by the tribe.

Jackson County residents voted against the issue in November 2007 in a nonbinding referendum.

Choctaw casinos are not regulated by the state.

State law limits other casinos to areas along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. There are 30 casinos in those places, and they’re regulated by the Mississippi Gaming Commission.

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Associated Press writer Jack Elliott Jr. contributed to this report.
 
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