Tribal Council rejects new casino

By: Steven Thomas

Rejecting a casino in the Red Water community of Leake County will cost the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians $20 million in new revenue and 170 jobs, Chief Phyllis J. Anderson declared after the 10-6 vote on Friday.

An audible sigh of relief came from the crowd which nearly packed the Tribal Council room.

Chief Anderson said she was disappointed with the council’s decision.

“We spent 15 months on the Red Water casino,” she said. “You are saying no to $20 million in funds and 170 jobs.”

Anderson said at no time did a member of the council come to see her about the project.

“I’m not sure if politics got in the way,” she said. “But you all need to take a hard look.”

The chief also accused the council of not wanting to vote on big items.

In response to the Chief’s comments, council member Randy Anderson of Conehatta said because the economy was down the proposed Red Water casino might not have succeeded anyway.

Earlier in the meeting, Councilman Anderson said Pro Forma Advisors, LLC, a Hartford, Conn. company hired by the Tribe, only considered proposed building sites for Bok Homa and Red Water and not areas like his home community of Conehatta.

“Where I’m from, we don’t have a big town to support us,” he said. “People can’t just go out and find jobs if the town isn’t strong enough.”

Chief Anderson issued a response to the Tribal Council vote in a press release Tuesday.

“Between December 2012 and March 2014, the Pearl River Resort Executive Team and I have provided and presented every piece of data and projections that could possibly be collected on the proposed Red Water Gaming Project,” Anderson said in the press release.

“The 10 council members that defeated the resolution essentially said ‘no’ to earning the Choctaw people an additional $20 million per year and providing 170 new jobs for Tribal members at a time when we are getting our Tribe back on track and moving forward.

“Of the four council members representing communities in Leake County, three voted in support of the project. I appreciate their commitment on doing what is in the best interest of their constituents.”

Since taking office in 2011, Anderson said she had “met with hundreds of tribal members and they tell me their biggest needs are jobs and housing.

“As leaders we must create new opportunities on our reservation for our people and that’s what this project was about. The funds generated from this proposed Red Water gaming facility would have helped us meet some of those essential needs of our tribal members.

 “There is no place for politics when deciding what is best for the people as a whole. As Tribal Chief, I made a commitment to our tribe to return progress to Choctaw and that’s exactly what we will do. This vote concerns me because it robs the people, my people, of new opportunities.”

She thanked the council representatives who supported the resolution and the many tribal people who expressed their support and encouragement of the project.

Voting against the resolution to build a casino in Red Water were:

Kevin Edwards of Standing Pine; Stella Willis, Cheriena Ben and Cyrus Ben, all of Pearl River; Randy Anderson of Conehatta; Ronnie Henry, Roderick Bell and Sammy Clemmons, all of Bogue Chitto; Bob Briscoe of Bogue Homa and Joseph Wesley of Crystal Ridge.

Voting for the resolution were: Harrison Ben of Standing Pine; Richard Isaac and Myrtle Ben, both of Red Water;

Troy Chickaway and Hilda Nickey, both of Conehatta; and Linda McMillian of Tucker. Absent was Dorothy Wilson of Tucker.

In December, the Tribal Council passed a resolution to borrow up to $145 million to renovate the Silver Star Hotel and Casino, reactivate the Golden Moon Casino and possibly build a new casino in Leake County.

That resolution called for the Tribe to spend about $88.1 million over the next two years.

That spending includes:

• $32.3 million for new slot machines and upkeep;

• $22.4 million for the hotels;

• $7.6 million to reactivate the Golden Moon;

• $7 million to refinance the Dancing Rabbit Inn;

The $18.8 million for a proposed casino in Red Water in Leake County required a majority vote by the council.