The Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians has spent millions to sponsor the Atlanta Braves since 2008, reported The Clarion-Ledger. And the payoff has proven minimal: less than 4 percent of customers are making the trip from Atlanta, Georgia to play their luck at the tribal casinos in northern Mississippi.
"That surprises me," Beverly Martin, commissioner with the Harrison County Tourism Commission, told The Clarion-Ledger.
Despite the longer drive to the Mississippi Gulf Coast versus the northern part of the state, about 20 percent of the customers visiting casinos near Mississippi's gulf come from Atlanta.
The Choctaw's casino-related spending was recently the target of the FBI, which raided the Golden Moon and Silver Star casinos in Choctaw near Philadelphia, Mississippi on July 12, removing papers and computer hard drives. The tribe is reportedly being investigated for its relationship with the Atlanta-based Mercury Gaming Group. The company's marketing arm, The Titan Agency, manages the tribe’s Pearl River Resort, which includes both casinos. The tribe also operates Mississippi's newest facility, the Hattiesburg-based Bok Homa Casino.
Chief Miko Beasley Denson had been paying Mercury Gaming chief executive Doug Pattison $60,000 per month, an amount that increased to $250,000 in February—unbeknownst to the tribal council.
Adding to the chaos, the raid came during a turbulent period for tribal leadership. Phyliss J. Anderson would have taken office July 12 in the chief’s $466,000 salary position except for a council vote that negated that election and called for a new one September 6. The Neshoba Democrat quoted “multiple sources” as saying the investigation could be about alleged election fraud.
The Choctaw tribe inked the deal with the Braves in 2008, and at the time Denson said revenue from the casino had leveled off and he hoped advertising with the Braves would spike its attendance—an idea from the Titan Agency.
The Choctaws spent "eight figures" to sponsor Turner Field, said a business newspaper in Atlanta, according to the Ledger. Thus, "The Lexus Level" was renamed "The Golden Moon Casino Level."
In an interview last week with the Ledger, Denson estimated the payout generated by the sponsorship as at least $1.3 million a year for four or five years. But on Friday, tribal officials released the percentage of Atlanta customers at 3.74 percent.