Gambling rescues tribe's fortunes

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The Independent Online
THE SILVER Star casino in Mississippi may not be lucky for all its punters who throw coins into the slot machines, but it is certainly a success story for the Native American tribe that owns it. The state's only Native American- owned casino was opened in July 1994, at a cost of $37m (pounds 23m), by the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

Located near the small town of Philadelphia in the Heartland region, it now provides the Choctaw with enough revenue to fund their children's high school and university educations - a remarkable advance for an independent, sovereign nation that not long ago was facing abject poverty and social decay.

The driving force behind the commercialisation of the Choctaw reservation was Phillip Martin, a tribal leader for more than 40 years and chief executive officer of the Silver Star, who helped turn the reservation into a business conglomerate employing 4,400 people and generating annual sales of $360m.

The Silver Star has been the major factor in the reservation's success. In just four years it has become the state's 10th largest employer. The complex includes a 100-room hotel, a caravan park, a 125-seat entertainment lounge and a gift shop. The casino holds 2,800 slot machines, 96 gaming tables, and a bingo hall that seats 800.

There is also a new 18-hole championship golf course, named after the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek, signed in 1830, which displaced 12,000 Mississippi Choctaws, forcing them to trek to new lands in Oklahoma and virtually wiping out the tribe.

The resort is a far cry from previous conditions on the reservation. Quoted last year in the Biloxi-Gulfport Sun Herald newspaper, Chief Phillip Martin, now 72, said that his people once had nothing, now they have much. "We had no water, no housing, no schools, no jobs. I believe in self-determination. There's no need to live in that situation as long as you can change it," he said.