Jena Choctaw win approval for gambling site 4-6-07

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana (AP) - Gov. Kathleen Blanco continues to oppose the expansion of gambling in Louisiana but she might not be able to stop the development of a fourth Indian casino in the state, her executive counsel said.

Federal law appears to give the governor little recourse to stop the Jena Band of Choctaws from building a ``Class II'' casino in Grant Parish north of Alexandria, Terry Ryder said Thursday.

Last month the U.S. Department of the Interior approved a 63-acre reservation for the Jena Band in southern Grant Parish.

The Jena Band is envisioning a $125 million to $150 million resort with a casino and a ``four-star hotel,'' said Pineville attorney Julie Wilkerson, who represents the tribe.

The tribe's attorney said the Jena Band actually wants to build a full-scale, ``Class III'' casino like three other tribes' casinos in the state.

The snag is that a Class III casino requires the approval of the governor or the federal government.

So far, Blanco has resisted negotiating a compact for a fourth major Indian casino.

The tribe will build a Class III facility and operate it as a Class II casino if necessary, Wilkerson said.

The loser, she said, will be the Grant Parish government, which stands to share in the casino revenue if the governor negotiates a compact.

``The Jena Choctaw will be able to make money with a Class II facility,'' Wilkerson said.

Sam Brimer, parish manager and a police juror, said the parish will not profit from a Class II casino, which typically offers bingo, card games and what Wilkerson calls ``slot-type machines'' that are different from traditional slot machines.

Brimer wants the governor to sign a compact with the tribe for a full-scale casino that would give the rural parish a share of the revenues.

``The bottom line: No matter what we think, there is going to be gambling in Grant Parish,'' Brimer said.

Ryder, the governor's attorney, said he is consulting with the Attorney General's Office to see what the administration's options are. The Jena Band has been trying for years to build a casino in Louisiana.

Former Gov. Mike Foster negotiated a compact with the tribe for a casino in Calcasieu Parish in 2002, but the federal government rejected it.

Foster said Thursday the tribe was bound to eventually get federal approval to open a casino no matter what Louisiana officials wanted.

He said he tried to negotiate a deal for a casino outside the Jenas' home area because Grant and Rapides parishes voted against gambling in 1996 local-option elections.

Foster said he was criticized for his proposed compact, but the result of not having a compact is a casino that gives no consideration to the state's interests and is in an area hostile to gambling.