The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians appear to have voted down a possible new casino in the Red Water community.
According to preliminary numbers on Thursday night, the vote against the casino was 1,449 to 654. Only the Red Water community voted in favor of the casino, 133-60.
Tribal leaders plan to count absentee ballots, reportedly about 112 votes, on Friday.
According to the Tribal Election Commission, 2,197 votes must be cast for the election to be valid.
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The tribe already has two casinos, Silver Star and Golden Moon, in Choctaw in Neshoba County and a third in Bok Homa in Jones County, 13 miles north of Laurel.
The nearly 11,000-member tribe reopened the Golden Moon full time in 2015, following a $70 million-plus renovation.
Red Water is in Leake County, bordering Carthage on the north.
Choctaw Chief Phyliss J. Anderson had been pushing for the casino for several years. The Tribal Council finally backed her recommendation in January.
She said the new casino will bring in about $50 million in annual revenue, plus provide more than 250 jobs.
Barry McMillan, who successfully pushed for the referendum, opposes the casino because it would cannibalize the two existing casinos in Choctaw, shifting $18 million to Red Water, according to a study done for the tribe.
McMillan, who serves on the Tribal Council, compared the plan for building a new casino just 23 miles away to “robbing Peter to pay Paul” and questioned why the casino is being built in Anderson's hometown.
He said he is worried some jobs at the Choctaw casinos would be lost.
Anderson acknowledged such cannibalization would take place, but said it would still mean a net gain of $31 million a year for the tribe. She said an independent study showed that Red Water was the best place to locate a new casino.
She denied that any casino jobs would be lost and said this new infusion of millions would actually create jobs the tribe needs.
Over the past two decades, the tribe has grown dramatically, she said.
Back in 1994, the tribe was made up of about 5,200 members. Those numbers have more than doubled since.
“With the growing population and over 50 percent of the population under 25, the need for jobs is there,” Anderson said, “but what this casino will allow us to do is to use those funds to reinvest back into the tribe for government services.”
That includes the tribal scholarship program, which since 1995 has spent $54 million to pay for the college education of tribal members. Last year’s high school valedictorian is now attending Dartmouth College, an Ivy League school.