Choctaws Release Casino Resort Details - - The News for South Mississippi

Choctaws Release Casino Resort Details

One day before a public hearing on the controversial project, we have new details about a proposed Choctaw Indian casino resort in Jackson County.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians wants to build the development on 100 acres of land on the west side of Highway 57 just south of I-10.

Information released by the Choctaws shows the proposed casino resort is a $375 million development. It would provide 3,800 construction jobs during the building phase and 2,800 jobs once the resort opens.

Along with a casino, the planned development includes an 1100 room hotel.

A public hearing on the plans is the first step in a lengthy process before the resort ever becomes reality.

Supervisor John McKay says Wednesday night's public hearing at the Ocean Springs civic center is a "baby step" in a process that could take several years.

Legally, the Choctaw tribe needs approval from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and an okay from Governor Haley Barbour. But the Choctaws would like public support for the plans. And that is a difficult challenge.

The proposed resort on the Choctaw-owned land would include a casino with 2,300 slots, a 50,000 square foot exhibit hall, 400 seat buffet and 25,000 square feet of retail.

Although Jackson County voters have twice rejected gambling, the project's biggest opposition may be coming from across the bay.

"Good competition is good for development, it's good for the market and the customers. That's not fair competition, and it just disadvantages everybody else," said Keith Crosby, general manager of the Palace Casino in Biloxi.

He says it's unfair because of a tax advantage. While current casinos pay taxes on their revenue, federal law makes Indian casinos tax exempt.

"What you're going to see is a diversion of taxable revenue to a non taxable base. Now that is a disadvantage from the state straight down to Jackson County, Harrison County and Hancock County. It's not good for anybody but the Choctaws," said Crosby.

"If they come to Jackson County, that's what we want is a first class facility. And that's a big if," said District Five Supervisor John McKay.

He isn't swayed by the unfair competition argument. The Choctaws have pledged to pay fees in lieu of taxes, to support things like schools and roads.

"Chief Martin has indicated that he would be more than willing to pay his fair share of 'in lieu' taxes, and that's one big issue, before we would even consider anything, that would have to be addressed," said McKay.

Supporters and opponents of the proposed casino resort are expected to pack the Ocean Springs Civic Center Wednesday night. That is when the Bureau of Indian Affairs holds the first public hearing on the Choctaw development plans.

The final public input will likely come in a countywide referendum. Choctaw Chief Philip Martin has requested a referendum be held in connection with next year's presidential election.

"And then if the people vote it down, I'll do everything in my power to fight it. And if they vote it up, I'll say, 'Governor, it's your choice now and I'll give it our support like we need to.' " said supervisor McKay.

By Steve Phillips

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