Choctaws used credit to pay for casino construction

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Published: August 29,2011

Tags: casinos, construction, credit, debt, gambling, gaming

SANDERSVILLE — Although the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians said in May that profits from its casino had paid off its $18 million construction costs at its Bok Homa casino in Jones County, financial documents show that the tribe used a $10-million line of credit to help pay that cost.

A campaign flier from Beasley Denson, the tribe’s miko, or chief, bragged that the Bok Homa casino had been “paid in full.”

That statement referred “only to construction costs,” tribal spokeswoman Wilma Simpson told The Clarion-Ledger.

Moody’s Investors Service cited that $10-million loan when it described the Choctaw Resort Development Enterprise’s liquidity as weak and downgraded the tribe’s bonds to junk bond status. It also cited $70.8 million due in November.

Moody’s said the resort had $27.2 million in unrestricted cash, including $15 million in cage cash at the end of March, but that wouldn’t cover “$80.8 million of maturing debt.”

Denson’s opponent in the Sept. 6 election, Phyliss Anderson, said she feels there is a lot of misinformation about Bok Homa.

“It is easy to tell voters what you think they want to hear, but we need the truth,” she said. “Our administration has not been truthful about the tribe’s debt. We need transparency in our tribal government and accurate reporting of tribal financial assets and debts.”

Shirley Berg, an unexpected candidate in the repeat election for the $466,000-a-year position, could not be reached for comment.

In recent weeks, the casino has lost three top officers including general manager, Bryce Warren, an industry veteran.

In a statement to The Clarion-Ledger, Denson said the tribe’s philosophy “has always been to promote Chahta (Choctaw) First, and we had an opportunity to promote a Chahta to this position as general manager.”

Gone, too, are Pearl River Resort COO Susan O’Connell and CFO Paul Simon.

Denson said the tribe evaluates “our staff according to our policies and procedures and makes decisions accordingly.”

The FBI raided the resort near Philadelphia on July 12, seizing hard drives and documents from the casinos.

Deason told the newspaper last month that the tribe has nothing to fear from the FBI’s investigation, saying the casinos’ books are checked by an outside auditing firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers.

The Big Four firm recently stepped down as outside auditor for the casinos but gave no reasons.

Denson, who was elected in 2007, has said the FBI warrants from the raid named the Atlanta-based Mercury Gaming Group and its marketing arm, the Titan Agency.

Anderson has said that, if elected, she would cancel the contracts with Mercury and Titan.

She defeated Denson in a July 5 runoff, but the Tribal Council then threw out results of the June general election for unspecified voting irregularities, negating the runoff as well.

Anderson is a Tribal Council member from the Red Water community in Leake County. If elected, she would become the Choctaws’ first female chief.

She said she wants to reassure members of the tribe there is still hope. “Despite all the challenges we are facing with the FBI, the Moody’s downgrade, resignation of our auditing firm and now this third tribal chief election,” she said, “it’s still important to focus on our future and the successes we will build.”

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