Jena Band to present casino plan before Grant Parish Police 6-14-07

COLFAX, La. (AP) - Tribal representatives of the Jena Band of Choctaws want to build a casino on newly proclaimed reservation land in southern Grant Parish near the Rapides Parish border.

On Thursday, they're scheduled to present their proposal in favor of establishing a gaming compact to Grant Parish police jurors who previously have voted against allowing that level of gaming in the area.

The proposed casino would rival the Tunica-Biloxi tribe's Paragon Casino Resort in Marksville and the Coushatta tribe's Coushatta Casino Resort in Kinder, officials have said. It would be located in Creola on 40.5 acres donated by landowner Mike Wahlder off U.S. Highway 167, about 12 miles north of Alexandria.

The parcel is the largest of six in Grant and LaSalle parishes that the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs designated as the tribe's reservation in April, opening the door for a Class II casino to be built there.

Class II casinos are allowed to have bingo and table poker games, but not other games such as regular slot machines, roulette wheels and blackjack found in Class III casinos.

Slot machines are permitted, but they operate on principles similar to bingo, competing against other slot machines in the casino instead of operating based on the odds of a singular machine.

Tribal officials said that to build the kind of casino that they want - which could cost as much as $150 million - they need to be on a level playing field with Louisiana's three other casino-owning tribes.

Under federal law, a tribe seeking to engage in Class III gaming must have a compact with the governor's office. Gov. Kathleen Blanco has said she would not sign such an agreement with the Jena tribe.

Grant Parish has rejected gambling in the past. A 1996 state referendum that outlawed video poker in 33 parishes easily passed in Grant. If a Class III casino is allowed, however, it could prove lucrative for the rural parish, adding as much as 6 percent of profits into the parish's coffers, officials have said.

With a Class II casino, the parish gets nothing.

The police jury's meeting is scheduled for 5 p.m.