Jackson County says no to Choctaws

Jackson County voters said no to a Choctaw casino in their backyard by a 60-40 margin.

With 100 percent of the precincts reporting, 18,435 voted against a Choctaw casino at Exit 57 of Interstate 10 to 12,183 who voted for it.

The early numbers had it a much closer race, but as the count continued, the margin spread.

Opponents of the casino gathered in Ocean Springs to hear the election reports. “It has been a fight,” said Eleanor “Cissy” Jordan, with Jackson Countians Against Choctaw G a m i n g . “ C l e a r l y tonight, the voters of J a c k s o n County have now spoken and sent the m e s s a g e , ‘We do not want a Choctaw casino here.’ “

She said former Choctaw Chief Philip Martin had pledged, and the Tribal Council had passed a resolution saying that if the people didn’t want a casino, the Choctaws would not build one in Jackson County. She hopes new Chief Beasley Denson will abide by those promises.

The non-binding referendum doesn’t carry any weight other than to give an indication of local sentiment. The Choctaws can still petition the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs for permission to build the casino.

George Skibine with the Department of Interior said more important than a referendum are the views of the local governments involved, “and essential is the support of the governor of the state.” Gov. Haley Barbour, who won re-election Tuesday night, has frequently said he opposes expanding casino gambling into Jackson County.

Skibine added, “Only four tribes have secured a governor’s concurrence for an offreservation casino under Section 20(b)(1)(A) of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act since 1988.” That is the exception the Choctaws would come under.

Chief Denson said last week that if the referendum went against the casino, the tribe will talk to the governor about how they might proceed. “Who’s to say we might not build in Harrison or Hancock counties?” he said. “Then we become just another casino.”

Just so it isn’t in Jackson County, said Jordan. “We have shown our strength on this issue, but if anyone, including Chief Denson, has other ideas, we are ready to do battle again.”

The Choctaws may hold a press conference today.