Page 29 of Ford County

"He's afraid of competition," Bobby Carl whispered to Chief Larry as their tour guide showed them around with no enthusiasm whatsoever.

Driving home, Bobby Carl laid out the deal. He would donate the forty-acre tract of land to the Yazoo. The tribe would finally have a home! And on the land they would build themselves a casino. Bobby Carl knew an architect and a contractor and a banker, and he knew the local politicians, and it was clear that he had been planning this for some time. Chief Larry was too dazed and too unsophisticated to ask many questions. The future suddenly held great promise, and money had little to do with it. Respect was the issue. Chief Larry had dreamed of a home for his people, a definable place where his brothers and sisters could live and prosper and try to recapture their heritage.

Bobby Carl was dreaming too, but his dreams had little to do with the glory of a long-lost tribe.

His deal would give him a half interest in the casino, and for this he would donate the forty acres, secure financing for the casino, and hire the lawyers to satisfy the hands-off and distracted regulators. Since the casino would be on Indian land, there was actually very little to be regulated. The county and state certainly couldn't stop them; this had already been firmly settled by prior litigation around the country.

At the end of the long day, and over a soft drink in the back of Chief's store, the two blood brothers shook hands and toasted the future.

The forty-acre tract changed owners, the bulldozers shaved every inch of it, the lawyers charged ahead, the banker finally saw the light, and within a month Clanton was consumed with the horrific news that a casino was coming to Ford County. For days, the rumors raged in the coffee shops around the square, and in the courthouse and downtown offices there was talk of little else. Bobby Carl's name was linked to the scandal from the very be-ginning, and this gave it an air of ominous credibility. It was a perfect fit for him, just the type of immoral and profitable venture that he would pursue with a vengeance. He denied it in public and confirmed it in private, and leaked it to anyone he deemed worthy of spreading it.

When the first concrete was poured two months later, there was no ceremonial shoveling of dirt by local leaders, no speeches with promises of jobs, none of the usual posturing for cameras. It was a non-event, by design, and had it not been for a cub reporter acting on a tip, the commencement of construction would have gone unnoticed. However, the following edition of the Ford County Times ran a large front-page photo of a cement truck with workers around it. The headline screamed: "Here Comes the Casino." A brief report added few details, primarily because no one wanted to talk. Chief Larry was too busy behind the meat counter. Bobby Carl Leach was out of town on urgent business. The Bureau of Indian Affairs within the DOI was thoroughly uncooperative. An anonymous source did contribute by confirming, off the record, that the casino would be open "in about ten months."

The front-page story and photo confirmed the rumors, and the town erupted. The Baptist preachers got themselves organized, and the following Sunday unloaded vile condemnations of gambling and its related evils upon their congregations. They called their people to action. Write letters! Call your elected officials! Keep an eye on your neighbors to make sure they don't succumb to the sin of gambling! They had to stop this cancer from afflicting their community. The Indians were attacking again.

The next edition of the Times was laden with screeching letters to the editor, and not a single one supported the idea of a casino. Satan was advancing on them, and all decent folk should "circle the wagons" to fend off his evil intentions. When the County Board of Supervisors met as usual on a Monday morning, the meeting was moved into the main courtroom to accommodate the angry crowd. The five supervisors hid behind their lawyer, who tried to explain to the mob that there was nothing the county could do to stop the casino. It was a federal issue, plain and simple. The Yazoo had become officially recognized. They owned the land. Indians had built casinos in at least twenty-six other states, usually with local opposition. Lawsuits had been filed by groups of concerned citizens, and they had lost every one of them.

Was it true that Bobby Carl Leach was the real force behind the casino? someone demanded.

The lawyer had been drinking with Bobby Carl two nights earlier. He couldn't deny what the entire town suspected. "I believe so," he said cautiously. "But we are not entitled to know everything about the casino. And besides, Mr. Leach is of Yazoo descent."

A wave of raucous laughter swept through the room, followed by boos and hissing.

"He'd claim to be a midget if he could make a buck!" someone yelled, and this caused even more laughter, more jeers.

They yelled and booed and hissed for an hour, but the meeting eventually ran out of gas. It became obvious that the county could do nothing to stop the casino.

And so it went. More letters to the editor, more sermons, more phone calls to elected officials, a few updates in the newspaper. As the weeks and months dragged on, the opposition lost interest. Bobby Carl lay low and was seldom seen around town. He was, however, at the construction site every morning by 7:00, yelling at the superintendent and threatening to fire someone.

The Lucky Jack Casino was finished just over a year after the Yazoo charter arrived from Washington. Everything about it was cheap. The gaming hall itself was a hastily designed combination of three prefab metal buildings wedged together and fronted with fake facades of white brick and lots of neon. A fifty-room hotel was attached to it and designed to be as towering as possible. With six floors of small, cramped rooms available for $49.95 a night, it was the tallest building in the county. Inside the casino, the motif was the Wild West, cowboys and Indians, wagon trains, gunslingers, saloons, and tepees. The walls were plastered with garish paintings of western battle scenes, with the Indians having the slight advantage in the body count, if anyone cared to notice. The floors were covered with a thin tacky carpet inlaid with colorful images of horses and livestock. The atmosphere was that of a rowdy convention hall thrown together as quickly as possible to attract gamblers. Bobby Carl had handled most of the design. The staff was rushed through training. "One hundred new jobs," Bobby Carl retorted to anyone who criticized his casino. Chief Larry was outfitted in full Yazoo ceremonial garb, or at least his version of it, and his routine was to roam the gambling floor and chat with the clients and make them feel as though they were on real Indian Territory. Of the two dozen official Yazoo, fifteen signed up for work. They were given headbands and feathers and taught how to deal blackjack, one of the more lucrative jobs.

The future was full of plans - a golf course, a convention center, an indoor pool, and so on - but first they had to make some money. They needed gamblers.

The opening was without fanfare. Bobby Carl knew that cameras and reporters and too much attention would scare away many of the curious, so the Lucky Jack opened quietly. He ran ads in the newspapers of the surrounding counties, with promises of better odds and luckier slots and "the largest poker room in Mississippi." It was a blatant falsehood, but no one would dare con' test it in public. Business was slow at first; the locals were indeed staying away. Most of the traffic was from the surrounding counties, and few of the first gamblers cared to spend the night. The high-rise hotel was empty. Chief Larry had almost no one to talk to as he roamed the floor.

After the first week, word spread around Clanton that the casino was in trouble. Experts on the subject held forth in the coffee shops around the square. Several of the braver ones admitted to visiting the Lucky Jack and happily reported that the place was virtually deserted. The preachers crowed from their pulpits - Satan had been defeated. The Indians had been crushed once again.