The South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation recently broke ground for a $300 million casino resort in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The U.S. Department of the Interior approved the Catawba’s application to take 16 acres into trust for gaming purposes in March. At the groundbreaking ceremony, Catawba Chief Bill Harris said, “I can try to give you words, but I don’t know of any words that can describe what it means righting a historical wrong. I think you actually have to walk into my shoes to get that.”
Soon after the Interior Department approved the Catawbas’ application, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who operate two casinos in North Carolina, filed an amended lawsuit in federal court in the District of Columbia, seeking an injunction against taking the site into federal trust. The Eastern Band, which has accused the Catawbas of “reservation shopping,” also want an environmental impact study to be completed and demand that the Catawbas participate in “good faith” discussions, including an archaeological and cultural survey of the proposed casino site. Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed said, “The facts and the law are clearly on the side of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and our fellow plaintiffs. We feel confident we will be vindicated by the court.”
Developers Delaware North said the first phase of the Catawba casino should be completed by late spring or early summer 2021. Delaware North Gaming President Brian Hansberry said, “We’ve been involved in a number of projects like this where we try to get our operations up and running. So we can give people work, and get the construction jobs going, and get some revenue going for the(Catawba tribe.”
The new facility will have a gaming floor with 1,796 electronic gaming devices and 54 table games, plus service bars and a players’ club and a 940-seat restaurant. An economic impact study by London & Associates showed the proposed facility could generate $208 million in direct economic activity and create 5,000 construction jobs and 4,000 permanent jobs. All profits from the casino will go back to the tribe. However, the city of Kings Mountain will provide utilities and the community will benefit from the casino’s utility consumption.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has opposed the building for years. Its original lawsuit against the decision by the U.S. Department of the Interior, including the injunction to stop the casino, was denied by a federal judge. Recently, the Eastern Band amended the lawsuit
Just two weeks ago, the Cherokees amended the lawsuit, including more plaintiffs—12 “members” who live near the Kings Mountain site off of Dixon School Road. The Cherokee Nation. based in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, also filed its own amended complaint, seeking to protect cultural artifacts on ancestral land where the casino is planned.
Also in the amended complaint, the Eastern Band accuses the Catawbas of being involved in “schemes” with casino developer Wallace Cheves. In a statement, Eastern Band officials wrote, “The driving force behind the DOI’s acquisition of land is unsavory but well-connected casino developer in South Carolina, Wallace Cheves, who has prevailed upon the Catawba Indian Nation of South Carolina to lend its name to the scheme and has deployed his influence to reverse the DOI’s long-held position that this type of land-into-trust acquisition is illegal.”
According to the Federal Election Commission, since December 2019, Cheves has made 32 contributions totaling about $500,000 to President Donald Trump, the Republican Party, U.S. Senator Thom Tillis and other Republican lawmakers. In the same time frame, the Eastern Band tribe made 40 donations totaling $213,000 to various national party groups.
Sneed stated, “Rushing ahead of the courts with a groundbreaking ceremony is just another political ploy by Wallace Cheves to try to force this casino on North Carolina. This case will ultimately be settled in the U.S. Courts. No ribbon-cutting ceremony will change those facts or stop the courts from putting an end to this charade.”
Catawba officials said they plan to pursue a Class III gaming compact with the state of North Carolina, allowing Las Vegas-style games. Without one, they’d be limited to Class II gaming which only allows bingo and bingo-related games.