New tribal casino set to call North Carolina home

By Charlotte Lee Updated
New tribal casino set to call North Carolina home

After years of on-again, off-again efforts, the Catawba Indians plan to break ground Wednesday on a near $300 million casino located 35 miles from Charlotte in Kings Mountain.

Charlotte Observer is reporting a tribe official confirmed the plans on Friday, which would bring Vegas-style gambling to the Charlotte area.

The Catawbas plan to open the casino in late spring or early summer 2021.

“The Catawba Nation is excited to get this long awaited project moving forward,” Catawba chief Bill Harris said Friday.

“The project will have a huge impact on the Cleveland County region, bringing much needed jobs as well as on the future of the Catawba Nation.”

The groundbreaking comes despite a lawsuit against the project by the Eastern Band of Cherokees, who operate their own casinos in western North Carolina.

Based on South Carolina, where gambling is prohibited, the Catawbas have looked across the border for at least seven years.

The tribe finally won federal approval in March to acquire 16 acres near Interstate 85 in Cleveland Country.

The US Interior Department put the land in trust, a designation that gives it the right to develop a casino.

At the time, Harris called it “righting of a wrong.”

The proposed casino has reignited a feud between the Carolinas’ biggest tribes over centuries-old land claims and big money.

At stake is a piece of the $32 billion Indian gaming industry.

The Cherokees, who have operated their own North Carolina casino since 1997 have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab”.

The Catawbas say they have a right to the land based on a provision of a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition.

Catawbas territory is being disputed

The agreement also gave them a “service area” in six North Carolina counties, including Mecklenburg and Cleveland.

Tribe members who live in those counties are eligible for the same federal benefits and services as those living on the reservation.

That’s the basis for their claim to the North Carolina land.

This spring, when the federal government put the land in trust, the Cherokees sued.

A federal judge rejected their request for a preliminary injunction, saying the Cherokees had not suffered “irreparable harm” by the government’s approval of the Catawba casino.

In a memo explaining his order, Judge James Boasberg cited the Catawbas’ “significant economic challenges.”

“It’s unemployment rate, for example, hovers around 13.8 per cent,” he wrote, “more than three times the corresponding rates in North and South Carolina.”

“It’s media household income – roughly $30,000 – is about 30 per cent below the equivalent figures for the Carolinas. Given that it lacks a suitable revenue stream, the Nation cannot adequately provide financial assistance to its members.”

He said the casino would generate $72 million in income in its first year and $150 million after five years.

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