Pastors Prepare For Jackson County Casino Debate

At Crossroads Church of the Nazarene, a handful of Jackson County pastors met behind closed doors. They sat around a table and mapped out a strategy to fight a proposed Choctaw casino on Highway 57.

When the meeting ended, First Baptist Church of Ocean Springs Pastor Michael Barnett spoke for the group.

"Whether it's an Indian reservation casino or whether it's a casino that pays taxes," he said, "we're concerned that families are going to be hurt and harmed."

The pastors met with the lobbbyist from Coast Businesses for Fair Play.

"We just need to be informed. They had some information that we might need," the pastor said.

The lobbying group includes businessmen like Tim Taranto, and several Harrison County casinos. The pastors and the lobbying group have different philosophies.

However, "As two parallel organizations, we're aiming for the same end goal," Taranto said, "and that's to oppose this effort and shut this thing down if we can."

The Choctaws told Jackson County supervisors last year they'd like to use land they own on the west side of Highway 57 for a casino development. Before that happens, Choctaw leaders say they want a referendum held to get support from the Jackson County community. In previous letters to supervisors, Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin mentioned a November, 2008 referendum date.

If the pastors use their pulpits, they think they could make it very difficult for the Choctaws to win a gaming referendum in this county.

"The bible teaches a different form of stewardship than gambling does," Pastor Barnett said. "So preaching the bible encourages Christian people to follow the scriptures and avoid the pitfalls of gaming."

The Choctaws are having an environmental impact study done to determine what a casino could do to the Highway 57 area. They also need permission from the governor to open a tribal casino in Jackson County. And Governor Barbour has said he won't support casinos expanding where they're already legal.