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Georgia’s massive entrance into casino market to radically impact Southeastern tribes

MGM Resorts International has proposed a $1 billion+ gambling casino complex for Downtown Atlanta.  One almost as large is about to be announced for Hutchinson Island in Savannah.  For several years,  a developer has wanted to build a casino resort at the site of the former Ford Automotive Plant, which is next to the Atlanta Airport – the busiest airport in the world.

Meanwhile, quietly slipped into the news this week was a mention that the state’s General Assembly is “studying” a plan to authorize smaller casinos in every part of the state, particularly on routes leading to Native American casinos in other states.  Basically, politicians from both major political parties have said that they would support Atlanta, if their jurisdiction got a share of the action.

There is no visible opposition to these proposals.  It is quite likely that within  five years, seven to ten gambling casinos will be operating in the state.  The major justification being used by Georgia politicos is that “Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Florida are now making hundreds of millions of dollars off of Georgia gamblers at their casinos.  We need to keep their money at home. ” Of course, most of those “out of state casinos” are owned by federally recognized Native American tribes.

Long time members of the People of One Fire will remember that we originally formed in 2006 to fight efforts by government bureaucrats and Georgia archaeologists to change the history of northern Georgia to make it appear that the Cherokees built most of the mound complexes in the Peach State and that the Cherokees have always lived in Georgia.  The State of Georgia even issued in 2006 a national press release , which included a “new, improved”  map of Indian tribes in Georgia that showed the northern half of the state, including Ocmulgee National Monument, as always being occupied by the Cherokees! The purpose was to then create a “Cherokee Reservation” in Georgia.

The first such proposal was back in 1999.  The Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma said that they wanted to move back to their homeland around Adairsville, GA in order to build a casino.  Two archaeologists, who were the very vocal spokesmen for “Maya Myth Busting in the Mountains” were hired as their consultants. The archaeologists confirmed the Keetoowah version of history in press releases,  but the US Department of Interior correctly pointed out that the Keetoowah left southeastern Tennessee in 1817, not Georgia, to move to Arkansas.  Their petition was denied.

Somewhere along the process,  politicos finally got the message from the BIA that there was not a snowball’s chance in Hades of a Cherokee casino being built in Georgia.  One could not create make-believe history,  a make-believe reservation on land that happened to be zoned “Commercial” and then build a casino there five years later.

Meanwhile, the big casino corporations are getting tired of sharing much of their profits with Native American tribes.  They probably let the politicians in Georgia know this long before the public knew anything.  That’s the way politics works.  A lot of powerful people undoubtedly said yes to MGM then the resort developer hired the architects to create the design drawings that the public sees.

How much this sudden concentration of gambling casinos in Georgia will affect the Native American casinos in the Southeast is still a matter of speculation, but the fact that they will all be on major interstate highways could make the impact catastrophic.   For example, the proposed Columbus, GA casino could take the lion’s share of out-of-state business away from the Poarch Creek casino in Wetumpka, Alabama.

The proposed casino for northwest Georgia will be much closer for almost all residents of Tennessee, Northern Alabama and Northwest Georgia – time and distance-wise – than the two Cherokee casinos in the North Carolina Mountains.  Not having to pay significant profits to tribes,  the corporate casinos will be able to pay for more spectacular entertainment and more elaborate architecture.

Yes, it is a game changer.



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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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