A court-ordered referendum, courtesy of Tribal Judge Jeff Webb’s August ruling regarding the validity of 1,624 signatures on a petition, will allow the Tribe to decide whether they want a new casino or not.
Barry McMillan successfully brought the litigation after in late January Choctaw Chief Phyliss J. Anderson, who resides in the community of Red Water, finally received backing from the Tribal Council by way of a 9-7 vote to adopt Resolution CHO 17-033 (pdf).
Following the January 27, 2017 approval of plans to build the 35,800 square-foot casino in central Leake County, McMillan ran and was elected to one of two open seats on the Pearl River Tribal Council of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in June this year. From that vantage point, he was reportedly able to convince Judge Webb that the Choctaw people should be able to vote on the $25 million project.
If the Red Water Casino is approved, it would be the tribe’s fourth casino. The tribe’s flagship gaming venue is the Pearl River Resort in Choctaw, Mississippi approximately 30 minutes by car from the proposed Red Water Casino. The Pearl River Resort properties include Silver Star Hotel and Casino, Bok Homa Casino in Sandersville and the Golden Moon Hotel and Casino.
The latter, located on the Pearl River Resort complex, was reopened full-time by the tribe in 2015 after undergoing a major renovation worth upwards of $70 million.
Anderson reportedly said that the new casino would provide upwards of 250 jobs and bring in some $50 million in annual revenue.
Meanwhile, McMillan reportedly opposes the casino because of the cannibalization effect he says it would have on Choctaw’s two existing casinos, with $18 million shifting to Red Water, according to a study commissioned by the tribe.
McMillan reportedly compared the casino plan, which places the new facility just 23 miles away, to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” He also questioned the reason the casino is being built in Chief Anderson’s hometown.
While Anderson reportedly concurred that such cannibalization would occur, she said the new casino would still provide a $31 million annual net gain for the tribe. Regarding the location of the new casino, Anderson explained that it was shown via independent study that the best place to build a new casino was Red Water.
However, Anderson refuted McMillan’s claim that casino jobs would be lost, stating instead that the new venue would actually create jobs the tribe is in need of.
Anderson went on to say that with tribal membership having doubled since 1994, and more than half of the 5,200 under the age of 25, jobs are needed. She said, “but what this casino will allow us to do is to use those funds to reinvest back into the tribe for government services,” according to the Clarion Ledger.
Chief Anderson explained that gaming funds help fund a variety of services including the tribal scholarship fund, fire department, tribal recreation, police department and the $50 million health care center.
McMillan, however, reportedly believes that because there are oftentimes under 3,000 votes cast in a Choctaw election, there is a good chance opponents of the casino come out on the winning side. He explained that 1,700 tribal members have already backed the referendum requiring a vote on the casino project.
McMillan also reportedly questioned the fairness of the election, where the ballot includes financial analysis that is purportedly pro-casino.