Moak offers support for casino plan

Published 7:42 pm Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Lincoln County lawmaker in charge of regulating the state’sgaming operations is backing the Choctaws’ pursuit of a new casino,saying state officials have no legal leg to stand on when it comesto challenging the project.

House Gaming Committee Chairman Bobby Moak, D-Bogue Chitto, issueda statement Monday in support of a proposed casino in Jones Countybeing planned by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Moak’s stance places him at odds with a batch of Republicanstatewide officials opposing the plan. Moak said a gaming compactbetween the Choctaws and former Gov. Kirk Fordice signed in 1992has been upheld by numerous courts and gives the tribe fullauthority to build their casino, opposition or not.

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“What you’ve got to realize is that, for legal purposes, theChoctaws are a nation unto themselves. It’s sort of like you’ve gota big embassy sitting there,” he said. “They have their own nationand their own set of federal laws, and we have agreed with them asa state by compact and it’s too late to change that.”

Gov. Haley Barbour has asked Attorney General Jim Hood to begin alegal move against the proposed casino, but Hood has taken noaction. Moak said any such action would be a waste of time andmoney.

“We can’t fight the federal gaming act and we can’t go back on ourtreaty,” he said. “Why would we spin our wheels?”

Moak admitted the gaming industry already established inMississippi would be opposed to any new facilities that woulddilute gambling money statewide, but he doubts the Jones Countycasino would really detract from existing casinos.

Though details on the Choctaws’ project are slim, the proposedcasino would not be like “a casino as you and I know it,” he said.The estimated $17 million facility would have 500 to 700 slotmachines and electronic gaming devices and no table games, hesaid.

“It does not fit the model of a resort status in Mississippi,” Moaksaid. “It will probably be more of a local development. In order tomake it work as a business model, you’ll have to offer theamenities other casinos offer – nice restaurants, hotel rooms,shows. You’ll have to offer those things that would significantlyimpact the market area.”