La. congressman threatens hearings on Jena casino bid

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Congressman threatens hearings on Jena casino compact

Eds: Tops with opposition from Landrieu, Lake Charles mayor and statement from Breaux. Edits to conform. No pickup. Changes dateline to undated.

By The Associated Press

U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu says she is opposing a proposed Indian casino near the Texas border, a deal that was agreed to by Gov. Mike Foster.

Landrieu, D-La., said Monday that public input is running overwhelmingly against the project. She said she will write a letter to the U.S. Department of Interior urging rejection of the casino compact with the Jena Band of Choctaws.

“The decision really should be made locally, and from what I can tell, there’s far more opposition than support and my job as senator is to really try to represent the majority,” Landrieu said.

Louisiana’s other senator, John Breaux, D-La., said he is urging the Interior Department “to carefully consider the opinions of local citizens and elected official in the region and that a compact should not be approved without that support.”

U.S. Rep. Chris John, D-Crowley, whose district includes the proposed Vinton casino site, already is opposing the project, along with U.S. Rep. David Vitter, R-Metairie.

Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach said Monday that he also is opposed to the casino. He said he does not see how the Interior Department can allow the use of the Vinton site for gambling when the tribe has no intention of living there.

“I think what’s getting lost in all of this is the fact that the Jena Choctaw tribe is not going to use this property as a reservation, even though it’s included in their reservation application,” Roach said.

The Jena Choctaws do not have a reservation and are historically from three parishes in central Louisiana nearly 100 miles away from Vinton.

On Monday, John said Foster’s casino compact is setting national precedents which need to be discussed in congressional hearings.

During an address to southwest Louisiana business and economic officials, John said he is giving Foster and the Jena Choctaws until Wednesday to withdraw the compact. Otherwise, he said he will send a formal letter the same day to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, stating his opposition to the compact.

The bureau has until Friday to approve the compact.

Congressional hearings, which John said he may initiate, would look at how a tribe may see an economic opportunity and “buy some land and say, ‘I would like to make this a reservation,’ which is truly not the intent of what a reservation or tribal land should be,” he said.

Foster has said repeatedly he had no choice but to negotiate with the Jena Choctaws and tried to cut the best deal possible for the state. The state is slated to receive 15.5 percent of the casino’s profits, while local governments will get 6 percent.

“This is not just a Southwest Louisiana issue. This issue has had impact all across the country,” John said. “I can tell you I had two calls from California Thursday before I left D.C. that were very interested in what was happening over in Louisiana with the uniqueness of the compact that was signed with a landless tribe.”

John said the hearings, if held, would occur later this year before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on which he sits.