Earlier this year, the Catawba Indian Nation advanced plans for a gaming resort in King’s Mountain, North Carolina. With a revenue-sharing agreement made and the approval of NC Governor Roy Cooper, the tribe was waiting for federal authorization to start official construction. Opposition from the Eastern Band of Cherokees, who operate two casinos in southwest NC, seemed to keep progress at a slow crawl shortly afterward.
Holding out for decisions from both the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the federal courts, the Catawba Indian Nation has had a long year of waiting. While odds weren’t necessarily stacked against the tribe, it would have been a tough bet on whether or not they would come out on top by the end of the summer.
State of Agreement
By March, the Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on the compact signed by Gov. Roy Cooper. The revenue-sharing agreement will see 8% of the tribe’s gaming revenue going to the state of North Carolina. The Catawba tribe has also said that casino profits will go towards an environmental conservation education fund, employment opportunities, and bolstering other community resources.
Meanwhile, the Department of Interior was still involved in the suit brought forward by the Eastern Band of Cherokees against both the DOI and the Catawba Indian Nation. Despite this, construction on the King’s Mountain casino resort had already begun, spearheaded by South Carolina developer Wallace Cheves.
A Case of Competition
Claiming that the Catawba’s attempts to build the King’s Mountain casino were “a modern-day land grab”, the Eastern Band cited legal processes for acquiring trust land for the Catawba tribe exclusively in South Carolina. They also suggested the government allowed early construction because of political pressure from Wallace Cheves who also intends to build upwards of 600 homes and luxury apartments near the new resort.
“This approval stems from the DOI’s original illegal act to take land into trust and force an unwanted casino on North Carolina, a decision that we continue to challenge in federal court,” said Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band tribe, referring to the approval of the revenue-sharing agreement. “We believe the facts are clear and that the court will invalidate this illegal casino and along with it, this compact.”
South Carolina bans all forms of gambling, so for gamblers in the Palmetto State, off-shore casino sites like Euro Casinos or traveling may be the only accessible gaming. The Catawba tribe would have no options if denied tribal land in North Carolina to build a casino.
The Verdict Please
In April, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg rejected the case, releasing a 55-page opinion and stating, “In the end, though, they come up with snake eyes, as on each claim they either lack standing or lose on the merits.”
The Catawba tribe has argued for their right to the land, referencing an agreement from 1993 that recognizes their ancestral ties to the land federally. Chief of the Catawba Indian Nation, Bill Harris, shared his thoughts on the ruling, saying he hopes the Eastern Band doesn’t file a “frivolous appeal and that our two tribes can now work together for the betterment of our people.”
A Temporary Victory
Now, the Catawba tribe is operating a temporary casino out of King’s Mountain while construction resumes on what will be a $273 million casino and resort. It’s no Wild Casino, but the “Two Kings Casino Resort” currently features 500 slots and has seen over 80,000 patrons since the beginning of August. Trent Troxel, vice president of the Catawba Indian Nation Gaming Authority, has taken an executive position at the casino and is the first member of the Catawba Indian Nation to do so.
A Hopeful Future
The Two Kings Casino has been in the works for some time, and Troxel has been involved since 2013. To see it come to fruition, he says, “words cannot explain how I feel.” The Catawba tribe has long struggled with issues like unemployment, and the casino, many hope, is the answer.
“Now we have opportunities for our children, our grandchildren, to have a place to go when they get done their schooling,” Troxel said. “The opportunities are endless for the next generation. That’s what I want to build for them, is a place for Catawbas to have a really good place to work, competitive salaries, and a good life.”
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