Governor Barbour says his opinion about gaming has not changed. He's very appreciative of everything the industry has done to help the state get back on its feet. But he's not about to let casinos move into counties where they're not legal.
One Southern Gaming Summit delegate said it was pretty clear the governor told gaming industry officials today he doesn't favor the Choctaw casino proposal in Jackson County.
Mr. Barbour gave the keynote address this morning at the 14th annual summit. This was the first time the conference was back in Biloxi since Katrina. It gave him a chance to use one of his more famous explanations about south Mississippi's recovery.
"Our people got knocked down by the worst natural disaster in American history. But they got back up. And they hitched up their britches. And they went back to work," he said.
More than 11,000 of those workers landed jobs at the 10 casinos in Harrison and Hancock Counties that were able to rebuild and reopen after the hurricane. In this keynote address at the Southern Gaming Summit, Governor Barbour had an opportunity to thank the casino industry for its commitment to the state.
"We're glad that you're here. We believe you must be glad that you're here, too," he told the crowd.
Barbour also shared his beliefs about the future of Mississippi's casino industry.
"I continue to oppose the expansion of gaming beyond the counties where it is now," he said.
Since 1992, Mississippi casinos have been legal in Harrison and Hancock Counties, and five counties along the Mississippi River.
"After 15 years, I think it's time to close the window," said the governor.
Mr. Barbour did not mention the Choctaw casino proposal for Highway 57 in Jackson County. But in the past, he's said he would not negotiate a new compact with the Choctaws to build a second resort 230 miles south of their Neshoba County tribal land.
In previous speeches, the governor also said he would not raise taxes. He reiterated that stance during his 30 minute talk to the gaming executives.
"I'm against raising anybody's taxes. That means the casino tax or any other tax," he said.
A day earlier, Barbour said future tax cuts for Mississippians were a possibility. He'd like to overhaul the state tax structure in the next few years, and he didn't rule out a cigarette tax increase if it's part of a package that helps reduce Mississippians' overall bottom line.
"In looking at the system as a whole, the goal will be significant tax reduction," Barbour said. "But we may see some things in there that need to be adjusted up, which would allow us to reduce other taxes even more."
According to the Department of the Interior, the governor is one of the three variables that can determine if a tribe like the Choctaws gets permission to open a casino that's not on its reservation. The other variables are whether the casino would benefit the tribe, and whether it would be detrimental to the surrounding community.
As WLOX News reported Wednesday, the word "gloomy" was used to describe whether the new secretary of the Department of the Interior would favor tribal casino proposals like the Highway 57 project.
A news release from the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians says, "If the people of Jackson County vote to support the project, the tribe would negotiate a compact that pays local governments for services in lieu of tax payments."
Jackson County will hold a referendum on the Choctaw issue in November.