As if in a desperate attempt to prove that enough never is enough, Louisiana could be witnessing still more expansion of legalized gambling in the state.
As if in a desperate attempt to prove that enough
never is enough, Louisiana could be witnessing still more expansion of
legalized gambling in the state.
The Jena Band of Choctaws has targeted a small
Central Louisiana community as a site to open a new casino – and there
may be little the state can do to stop it.
The Jena tribe has been seeking land to open a
casino for years. Efforts failed in Mississippi – and attempts in
Louisiana have fallen through as well.
In 2002, the tribe had an agreement signed with the
state. But that “compact” was rejected by the federal government,
partly because the proposed site was too far from the tribe’s ancestral
Now, the tribe has a site near its homeland – the
small community of Creola in Grant Parish in Central Louisiana.
It is an unlikely site. In 2001, a Jena Band of
Choctaws leader even said the tribe never would open a casino in the
parish. After all, its residents outlawed video poker in 1996 – and
sale of alcohol is banned in most of the parish as well.
However, that was before the tribe obtained land in
the Creola community. The land was donated by Mike Wahlder, a judge and
newspaper owner. Wahlder incorporated the Creola community a few years
ago and owns most of the 300 acres it encompasses. In a recent New
Orleans Times Picayune article, he acknowledged a casino in the area
would help increase the value of his land.
Meanwhile, for the Jena tribe, the motive is clear – they want to cash in on the boom of Indian gambling.
Louisiana already has three Indian casinos, not to
mention countless video poker outlets, a state lottery, riverboats and
a New Orleans casino.
One more site may be on the way – despite state opposition.
During her election campaign, Gov. Kathleen Blanco made it clear she
was opposed to any expansion of gambling in the state.
Nevertheless, she met with Jena tribal leaders last
fall to discuss their desire to reach an agreement with the state.
That elicited criticism from Sen. David Vitter,
R-La., who casts himself as a gambling opponent. Blanco and Vitter have
continued to engage in a public war of words at times regarding the
He has called on her to hold to her campaign promise
– and she has urged him to act on the federal level to change the laws
regarding Indian gambling.
The truth is that Blanco may have little choice in
the matter. Federal law requires a governor with Class III gambling
(slot machines and card tables) to negotiate with Indian tribes seeking
If the state refuses to do so and fails to reach an
agreement with the Indian leaders, the tribe then can appeal to the
federal government. As a U.S. Interior Department spokesperson said in
the Times Picayune article, if the federal government finds that the
state in question already offers gambling similar to that sought by the
tribe, it likely will grant approval.
“There is no question that in Louisiana, if the
state refuses to compact with the tribe, it will be very easy to decide
the scope of the gaming issue,” the spokesperson said in the Times
In other words, if push comes to shove and the Jena
Band of Choctaws runs to the federal government, the tribe almost
certainly will win the day.
Thus, Blanco faces a dilemma – negotiate with the
state so that money is provided for increased service costs related to
the casino or risk the tribe running to the federal government and
ending up with nothing at all – except more gambling.
It should come as no surprise, then, that since
vowing not to enter into discussions with the tribe, Blanco has
appeared to back off from that stance a bit. In recent comments, a
spokesperson for the governor said if Blanco was forced to negotiate
with the tribe, she would do so in public.
The statement was an obvious reference to former
Gov. Mike Foster, who negotiated the 2001 agreement with the Jena tribe
in secret, drawing considerable criticism from some quarters for doing
Of course, the governor still could refuse to
negotiate and also could go to court with the issue should the Jena
tribe win federal approval nonetheless.
There, the issue is unclear, observers note. The
Times Picayune points out that no tribe has won approval of a casino
over a state’s objection since 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court
strengthened states’ authority on the matter.
However, at the same time, Texas currently is in
court trying to stop just such a casino within its borders. A decision
in that case is expected this year and could go a long way to telling
the tale of the Jena Band of Choctaws.
Until then, Louisiana gambling opponents only can
sit and wait and wonder – if enough gambling ever will be enough.