SANDERSVILLE — Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood said yesterday there is no legal basis for the state to try to block a casino proposed on Choctaw tribal land in Jones County.
Gov. Haley Barbour opposes the casino and asked Hood last month to research state law to find a way to stop the development, which would have 500 to 700 slot machines.
Hood said yesterday that attorneys in his office examined the gaming compact that then-Gov. Kirk Fordice signed with the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians in 1992, and the compact refers to tribal lands — plural. Hood said that means the Choctaws are not restricted to having only their two existing casinos in Neshoba County.
Hood said the U.S. Interior Department certified the tribal lands in Jones County during the 1940s. He said the state’s tribal gaming compact has been upheld by state and federal courts, and the six-year period to challenge the compact expired long ago.
“Consequently, there is no viable legal cause of action to challenge the compact,” Hood said in a news release.
Barbour spokesman Dan Turner said the governor had no comment on Hood’s decision.
The Choctaws’ miko, or chief, Beasley Denson, praised Hood’s research.
“Gov. Kirk Fordice had the wisdom, vision and courage to sign the compact in 1992, recognizing the sovereignty of this tribe and the positive impacts that gaming provides to the tribal government, as well as the positive economic impact it has beyond the tribe’s borders,” Denson said in a news release Tuesday. “And although there is some disagreement among state leaders with our decision, we will continue to work with our allies at the federal, state and local level to make this project a win-win.”
The proposed 27,000-square-foot casino would be in Sandersville, northeast of Laurel. It would be a $17 million investment, employing about 250 people.
Fordice, who died in 2004, was a Republican.
Barbour and the six other current Republican statewide elected officials have said they’re against a casino in Jones County, and they’ve publicly asked the Choctaws to withdraw their plans.
Hood, a Democrat, said it’s unfortunate that the compact Fordice signed did not restrict Choctaw casinos to Neshoba County.
Mississippi has 30 state-regulated casinos along the Gulf Coast and the Mississippi River. The state does not regulate the Choctaw casinos — but that hasn’t stopped politicians from expressing opinions about the proposed development.
The chairman of the state House Gaming Committee, Democrat Bobby Moak of Bogue Chitto, said Monday that the tribe should be allowed to move forward with its plans.