By The Associated Press / Shelia Byrd
JACKSON – Gov. Haley Barbour said Monday that he’s going to court to try to block a gaming development proposed by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and will hire an outside attorney.
In a letter to Attorney General Jim Hood on Monday, Barbour said the development “is clearly inconsistent with the policy of this state to develop destination gaming for the economic benefit of all Mississippians.”
Barbour had asked Hood to look into the matter in June. Hood responded last week, saying a gaming compact signed by former Gov. Kirk Fordice, a Republican, left the state no legal grounds to halt the plans.
State and federal courts have upheld the compact, and the state’s deadline for protesting the deal expired long ago, Hood said.
The tribe plans a 27,000-square-foot casino with 500-700 slot machines and a snack bar in Jones County, on tribal land near Laurel.
Republican Barbour chastised Democrat Hood for telling tribal chief Beasley Denson the state’s legal options the day he told Barbour. That “breach of confidentiality” puts the state at a disadvantage, the governor said.
Hood said in an e-mail to The Associated Press that he did not release a letter advising Barbour. Hood also said his office had begun researching the issue before he knew Barbour was considering a lawsuit.
Hood said he did give a copy to a legislator who asked about the legality of the casino. He didn’t name the lawmaker.
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 near the Gulf Coast.
Several other Republican statewide elected officials oppose the development, including Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and State Auditor Stacey Pickering, who is from Jones County. U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker and U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, both Republicans, also are against it.
Warren Strain, a spokesman for the tribe, declined to comment about Barbour’s letter, citing potential litigation.
He said the project will extend the Pearl River Resort in Neshoba County, which employs about 3,000 and has an annual payroll of around $86.5 million.
Strain said the Jones County development will create up to 250 jobs, with one-third reserved for tribe members.