Residents pray against Choctaw Casino referendum 5-21-07

GAUTIER, Miss. (AP) - More than 50 church members from across Jackson County held a prayer vigil directly across from land where the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has proposed building a casino.

The 35-minute vigil was held at Mississippi 57 and Firestone Road. About 10 pastors prayed about a coming nonbinding referendum on the issue, public officials on both sides of the issue, Choctaw Chief Phillip Martin and the tribe's efforts to survive economically.

The Rev. Carl King, executive pastor of Crossroads Church of the Nazarene and spokesman for Jackson County United for Families, said there are enough casinos in Harrison and Hancock counties.

“Certainly every casino bills itself as being a great employment agency, and they hire many people,” he said. “The good that comes out of it in terms of the harm is far outweighed by the evil; the bad that comes out of it as a result of lost wages, the lost salaries and revenues of people and individual families and the loss of marriages, the loss of property.”

King said the prayer vigils would be held twice monthly until the Nov. 8 general election when residents countywide get to vote on a nonbinding referendum about the casino proposal.

The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians wants to build a $375 million casino on 100 acres off Mississippi 57, just north of the Ocean Springs city limits.

The proposed project is more than 200 miles away from the tribe's reservation in Choctaw, Miss.

Plans call for more than 2,300 slot machines and a 400-seat buffet. The hotel would have 1,100 rooms, a theater, indoor and outdoor pools and a fitness center.

However, the Choctaws must negotiate the casino compact it has with Mississippi and the U.S. Department of Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs before opening a casino in Jackson County.

A key component of approval by the agencies is community acceptance of the project.

While the Choctaws have agreed to abide by the majority vote, the decision for another casino rests with Gov. Haley Barbour, who has expressed opposition to expanding casinos beyond their present counties.