Mississippi Choctaws Eye Jackson County Casino

Tribal Chief Phillip Martin sent a two page letter to Jackson County Supervisor Robert Norvel. It spelled out the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians' ultimate desire to redevelop its First American Printing property on Highway 57.

In the letter, Martin wrote, "We have decided to continue examining the possibility of gaming on tribal land."

In order to do that, the Choctaws need Jackson County voters to approve a gaming referendum. So, the Indian tribe hired a company to do a feasibility study on the 100 acres they own near Highway 57 and I-10.

"At some point in the future, a public notice will be published in the county," Martin wrote, "indicating that such a study is underway and that our ultimate intent is to use the land for a gaming result."

When asked if he thought the Choctaws would get their wish, and a casino would open on their Highway 57 property, Supervisor Norvel said, "I don't know. That's a decision strictly between Chief Martin and the taxpayers of Jackson County."

So, WLOX News called Chief Martin's office. But nobody at the Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia, Mississippi would answer questions about the letter.

Four years ago, Chief Martin was in Biloxi. And just like now, rumors were swirling about this property and the Choctaws desire to turn it into a casino. At the time, Chief Martin said the tribe had no immediate casino plans. But during that 2002 interview, he also said, "If we decide that it's in the best interests of everybody to bring another casino in here, who knows, we might do that."

In last week's letter, Martin told supervisors, "We believe a successful referendum on the gaming question must occur in the county before we could demonstrate local support and gain approvals from the Governor and the Secretary of Interior."

The tribe can only transform its land into a casino if the U.S. Department of the Interior gives its blessing.

"If we are legally able to proceed with a gaming development some time in the future," Martin wrote, "we will still have to overcome significant challenges. The point is, there are numerous hurdles to clearn and there will be ample opportunities for everyone with an interest to participate in the decision making process."

Chief Martin's letter said a gaming referendum in 2008 would give his group time to win over Jackson County voters.