Choctaw leaders need to rethink Jones project

Published 12:01 am Sunday, July 18, 2010

Long before development of two top-notch casinos near Philadelphia, Phillip Martin, the late chief of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, had reversed the fortunes of the Choctaw people. With political and entrepreneurial savvy, Martin used personal alliances to lure businesses and create jobs that led to better roads, schools, health care and an across-the-board happier day for the Native Americans. Their reservation property in east central Mississippi was transformed. The Silver Star and Golden Moon destination resorts came later and only made things better.

Frankly, however, we wonder about the current leadership of the Choctaws.

Claiming exemption from state control — which is largely true — Choctaw leaders are insisting on placing a 27,000-square-foot metal building on tribal land near Sandersville in Jones County and filling it with 500-700 slot machines. The cost would be $18 million, a fraction of the investment of Silver Star, Golden Moon and their multiple amenities.

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Compounding the adverse implications is that officials and citizens of Jones County are organizing their opposition.

It has been almost 20 years, but we well remember the two referendums in Warren County that followed the Legislature’s 1990 vote to open coastal and river counties to “local option” gaming. People here were sharply divided, with a majority voting against casinos until a second election was held after the Mississippi Gaming Commission was established and there were other assurances that controlled development would take place.

It’s hard to believe Choctaw leaders think any venture that relies so heavily on local good will can succeed without local support. Certainly, the situation here would have been vastly different had a majority of voters not agreed to casino development.

Basically, what’s proposed is a low-end development in a very rural location where it’s not wanted. We can’t believe Phillip Martin would have endorsed such a project. Choctaw leaders need to think about that.