Choctaw tribe’s deals focus of FBI, chief says

Philadelphia, Mississippi (AP) July 2011

Mississippi Choctaw Chief Beasley Denson says media reports earlier this month that an FBI search of tribal records includes those related to the Choctaws’ relationship to an Atlanta management company are true.

Denson told The Clarion-Ledger that the search warrant presented the tribe by FBI agents on July 12 mentioned Atlanta-based Mercury Gaming Group and its marketing arm, the Titan Agency. Denson said he has no idea what the investigation is examining.

Denson has not returned calls to The Associated Press seeking comment.

Mercury manages the Choctaws’ Pearl River Resort in Philadelphia and Bok Homa casino in Jones County. The tribe pays Mercury CEO Doug Pattison more than $2.4 million a year and has inked multimillion-dollar marketing deals with the firm.

On Mercury’s website, Pattison takes credit for growing revenues as CEO of the Silver Star Casino to more than $250 million.

Several news organizations – quoting sources – have reported that the FBI was investigating the tribe’s contract with Mercury Gaming. The FBI has declined to comment.

Denson said former Mississippi Gaming Commission executive director Paul Harvey Jr. is the current CEO. Harvey and Pattison have not returned calls to The Associated Press for comment.

“It’s untimely,” Denson said of the FBI’s action. “A business has to go through difficult situations. We’re no different than any other business. We maintain a good operation.”

Denson said he hired Harvey because of his integrity.

And, Denson said he intends to continue to use Mercury and Titan “until we find something better. They know the wisdom of how to connect with old customers and new customers.”

A new election for chief is scheduled for Sept. 6. The Tribal Council threw out the results of a July 5 runoff, which Denson lost to challenger Phyliss J. Anderson because of alleged voting irregularities.

During the campaign, Anderson publicly called for an audit on the casinos and transparency in the tribe’s spending. Anderson also didn’t return calls to the AP.

Denson said the Choctaws continue to pay more than $1.3 million a year for a multi-year contract signed in 2008 to be a sponsor for the Atlanta Braves. He said the deal is for four or five years at $1.3 million to $1.5 million a year. In return, “The Lexus Level” at Turner Field was renamed “The Golden Moon Casino Level.”

He said Titan officials had advised the tribe to make the sponsorship deal with the Braves. He also said he allows Mercury and Titan officials to use the Choctaws’ skybox at Turner Field.

Advertising in Atlanta – almost six hours from Philadelphia – rather than in closer cites such as Birmingham and Tuscaloosa is an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses,” Denson said.

Pattison’s pay went from $60,000 a month until February to more than $200,000 a month. Denson said the hike was because Mercury is now also consulting on the Bok Homa casino.

Denson acknowledged he has run up enough gambling debts in the past to have markers at casinos, including those in Las Vegas.

A marker is a short-term loan the casino extends to a player. Denson said he doesn’t have any markers now.

Denson, who prefers playing blackjack, said he knows some high-stakes gamblers but doesn’t include himself in their company.