As state government attempts to get a handle on gaming within Alabama, might a new player enter the mix?
According to an Associated Press article on Sunday by Jay Reeves, should outgoing U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Tuscaloosa) succeed in getting federal recognition for the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians, gaming on their tribal land could come next.
The MOWA Band, formerly known as the Mobile-Washington County Band of Choctaw Indians of South Alabama, is a state-recognized tribe mostly located in southern Washington County and northern Mobile County east of U.S. Highway 43.
In January, Shelby introduced the MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians Recognition Act (S.3443). A hearing was held before the U.S. Senate Committee on Indian Affairs about the merits of the legislation in March.
The MOWA Band received state recognition in 1979. Its tribe claims to be descended from the Choctaws, who remained in the area after the forced migration west in the 1830s.
However, there are detractors. According to AP's Reeves, "more than 140 tribes are lined up" to oppose the MOWA Choctaw Band's recognition.
Aside from the $50 million to $100 million in initial benefits, including health care, education and economic development for the MOWA from federal recognition, it could open up the door for gaming on their tribal land.
"Federal recognition could finally open the door to gaming operations, but the MOWA would be in competition with Alabama's only federally recognized tribe, the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, which already operates casinos," Reeves wrote in the AP story. "One way or the other, [MOWA Band of Choctaw Indians Chief Lebaron] Byrd said, recognition could improve life for descendants of a group of people who refused to leave their homes nearly 200 years ago."
The MOWA Tribe tried its hand at gaming in 2013. However, just days after opening a gambling hall, it was raided by the Mobile County Sheriff's Office.
In 2017, despite an exhaustive appeals process, then-Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange declared victory and destroyed the machines seized in the raid.
Jeff Poor is the executive editor of 1819 News and host of "The Jeff Poor Show," heard Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-noon on Mobile's FM Talk 106.5. To connect or comment, email jeff.poor@1819News.com or follow him on Twitter @jeff_poor.
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