A contentious battle between two factions of the Mississippi Choctaw Nation will come to a head on Thursday, when a referendum vote on a fourth casino, which would be known as Red Water, will be decided by the tribe’s members. Though nearly 11,000 people are eligible to vote, only a third are expected to turn out.
Proponents of the fourth gaming venue maintain that the new project would help fund programs for the area’s growing population. Choctaw Chief Phyliss J. Anderson said the new casino is expected to bring in about $50 million in annual revenue and provide more than 250 jobs. She told the Clarion-Ledger that the area has doubled in size since 1994, and that it boils down to a matter of simple economics.
“With the growing population and over 50 percent of the population under 25, the need for jobs is there,” Anderson said, “but what this casino will allow us to do is to use those funds to reinvest back into the tribe for government services.”
She pointed to a scholarship program that has raised more than $54 million for tuition for members since 1995, as well as a $50 million health care center, and funds for fire and police departments.
But Barry McMillan, who serves on the tribal council, maintains that an added casino would be a detriment. He asserts that having that many gambling venues within an approximate 30-mile radius would hurt business at the smaller ones.
He referenced a study that was done on the issue that said $18 million would be lost from two existing casinos and transferred to the proposed one. He likened it to “robbing Peter to pay Paul.”
The $25 million projected cost for the proposed Red Water Casino also concerns McMillan, especially after spending $70 million on renovations to the Golden Moon Casino in 2015.
McMillan already won one battle in getting the referendum on the ballot at all. Initially, Anderson succeeded in having the project approved by the Tribal Council in January, but McMillan and others started a petition drive and gathered nearly 1,700 signatures by a May deadline to put it to a vote.
The Tribal Election Committee rejected more than 130 of them, ruling them invalid, but the group said the process was flawed and on Aug. 16, Tribal Judge Jeff Webb decided in McMillan’s faction’s favor. Anderson chose not to appeal the ruling and let the upcoming referendum stand.
Odds Favor Proponents
McMillan believes he has the numbers to sway the vote his way, saying that of the 3,000 expected to turn out, 1,624 who signed the petition should choose against the casino. He was critical of language on the ballot, which he claims contains a financial analysis that is decidedly pro-casino.
Part of the statement reads, “less Tribal funding will be available to meet the needs of the growing Choctaw population, putting essential Tribal services and jobs at risk.”
McMillan also sought election observers to make sure the vote was run properly, but the Tribal Election Committee turned down that request.
“We want fairness in the election process, but we keep getting chopped down like trees,” he told the Clarion-Ledger.