WLOX News has obtained new information about the Choctaws and their Jackson County gamble. Documentation that indicates the Indian tribe tried to bring gambling action to Jackson County last fall without a referendum.
While Mississippi Choctaws were telling Jackson County supervisors they needed local support to put a casino on Highway 57, several letters indicate their chief was playing a completely different hand.
The letters in question were sent from Chief Phillip Martin to the Department of the Interior. And they were obtained by WLOX News Friday.
The first letter is dated September 15th, 2005 -- just days after Hurricane Katrina slammed into south Mississippi. To help with rebuilding efforts, Chief Martin wrote that the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians wanted to turn its Highway 57 property into a casino resort.
What nobody knew until now is that the chief's initial plan was to put what are called Class II gaming machines into his First American Printing property. And he wanted between 1,500 and 2,000 of those bingo style games turned on as quickly as possible.
Chief Martin wrote in his September letter that the initial revenue stream from those games would create a better opportunity to develop a bigger casino resort on the entire 100 acres the Choctaws own near the interstate.
The chief's letter asked the Department of the Interior to immediately approve the request. But in a December 21st response, the Department of the Interior said no.
"If you plan to proceed with your initiative, compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) will be required," Associate Deputy Secretary James Cason wrote.
His agency must ratify Indian gaming issues.
Any tribal casino would also have to be approved by the governor's office. Friday, a spokesman for the governor said Mr. Barbour was against expanding gaming beyond where it is right now. So you know, the September 15th letter that outlined Chief Martin's gaming wishes was sent to the governor.
Last month, the Choctaw chief sent a letter to Jackson County supervisors. He told them his tribe still wanted to pursue a Highway 57 casino. But only if Jackson County voters supported the idea through a referendum.
A full page ad in coast newspapers this week stated the same thing. The Choctaws would like that referendum vote to be held in 2008.
Calls to Chief Martin's office Wednesday and again Friday were not returned. WLOX News was hoping to talk with him about his Jackson County casino proposal.
by Brad Kessie
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