The issue of a proposed Choctaw-owned casino in Jones County near Sandersville quickly has grown from local speculation to statewide notoriety because opponents, including Gov. Haley Barbour, have locked horns with Chief Beasley Deason and the Choctaw tribal council over its legality.
The Mississippi Band of Choctaws, which operates two casinos and affiliated resorts in Neshoba County at what’s called Pearl River, Miss., also owns land in Jones County and proposes a casino on it in the Bogue Homa community. It would be the first casino built outside the tribal headquarters. The casino, the Laurel Leader-Call newspaper reported, would be equipped with 500 to 700 slot machines. It would be a $17 million investment, employing about 250 people.
Barbour, plus the state’s two U.S. senators, two members of Congress and several Republican statewide elected officials, have announced opposition because, they claim, it is not allowed as an Indian casino under a gaming compact signed by the late Gov. Kirk Fordice and the late Choctaw chief Phillip Martin.
Attorney General Jim Hood, asked for an opinion about legality by Barbour, ruled last week that the Fordice-Martin compact does not exclude casinos from the Choctaw-owned lands in Jones County.
Barbour soon after fired off a letter claiming Hood had violated ethical canons by informing casino proponents of his decision before informing Barbour himself. Hood, as attorney general, is Barbour’s official attorney unless outside counsel is hired.
Most of that brouhaha is bad-blood politics, but it doesn’t mean casino opponents don’t have a cause.
Choctaw casinos, as do all other Native American casinos on tribal lands, operate under special legal standards because of tribal status as a nation subject to treaty terms with the United States. A unanimous U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the late 20th century upheld tribal exemptions from paying state and local taxes and from state regulation.
The court of public opinion, however, is not subject to federal, state or tribal control. The Daily Journal opposes the proliferation of gambling statewide.
Opponents, especially those who live within the 50-mile radius that would be the casino’s primary area, should press their case against siting the facility in Bogue Homa.
At the very least, demands should be made that the Choctaws make payments equivalent to sales, income and property taxes to offset public expenditures that will be made to support infrastructure leading to the casino.
The Choctaws, even with special status, are Mississippi citizens, and they should be pressed hard to bear the same load as others, including tax equivalent payments on businesses that compete with independent, private-sector gambling ventures.
NEMS Daily Journal