"Topping Off" Ceremony Held At New Indian Casino

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians marked another milestone Friday in the development of its $750 million Pearl River Resort, "topping off'' the 571-room Golden Moon Hotel & Casino.

When the Golden Moon opens in the fall, it will join the Silver Star Hotel & Casino as the centerpieces of the tribe's emerging resort in east central Mississippi, some 70 miles northeast of Jackson.

The new hotel and casino will feature 144 suites, five restaurants and a 17,000-square-foot golden moon-shaped structure atop the building. The moon, scheduled to be placed on the hotel at a ceremony Friday afternoon, will feature an observation deck, the Galaxy restaurant and a lounge.

In mid-March, the tribe will begin an extensive recruiting effort to hire 2,000 employees for the Golden Moon.

"It's exciting to see the vision we've had for so many years become reality,'' said longtime Chief Phillip Martin, who is credited with lifting the tribe from dire poverty to economic well being in the past 20 years.

As a chief and chief executive of the 8,900-member tribe, the 75-year-old Martin has established an array of profitable businesses and reinvested hundreds of millions of dollars in the 30,000-acre reservation, dramatically reducing its dependence on the federal government. In the process he's become one of the nation's most influential tribal chiefs.

His latest challenge is the Pearl River Resort, which will build on the success of the 7-year-old Silver Star, Mississippi's only land-based casino and the state's highest-grossing gambling operation. The resort also features Dancing Rabbit Golf Club, one of the state's top layouts.

Scheduled to open later this year are a water park, a laser, light and water show and an exhibit featuring more than 25 famous cars from the movies and television.

The tribe also is building a 285-acre recreation development complete with a lake, a wellness center, a 10,000-seat amphitheater, a 219-room hotel and a memorial to Choctaw war veterans. Lake Pushmataha and its offerings are expected to open next year.

Pearl River Resort eventually will employ some 7,800 people.