Tennessee residents will soon have a new reason to visit Charlotte, North Carolina.
The Catawba Indian Nation is one step closer to seeing its $27.3 million casino resort project to fruition.
Catawba gaming compact moves forward for North Carolina casino
On Jan. 22, Gov. Roy Cooper signed a gaming compact allowing the Catawba Nation to offer live table gaming and sports betting at a 16.57-acre establishment located in Kings Mountain – roughly 30 miles west of Charlotte.
The new casino will officially be named the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort in honor of the city of Kings Mountain and 18th-century Catawba Chief King Hagler.
Catawba Chief Bill Harris said:
“On behalf of the Catawba Nation, I sincerely thank Gov. Roy Cooper and his team for their thoughtful collaboration in creating this compact, which is the key step in bringing economic benefits and thousands of jobs from our casino project to the citizens of North Carolina.”
The Catawba Nation released initial economic impact plans in 2013, which forecasted a demand for over 3,000 jobs at their 220,000-square-foot facility and a yearly economic impact of $349 million in Cleveland County.
The casino has been a long-awaited endeavor for the people of the Catawba tribe, who suffer from higher unemployment and lower household income rates than average for the jurisdiction.
Catawba and EBCI battle over North Carolina casino
The Catwba Nation’s entrance into the North Carolina casino market hasn’t been smooth.
This has been a long-standing, heavily-debated issue between the Catawba Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), who operate two Harrah’s Cherokee Casino locations in the western part of the state.
EBCI Chief Richard Sneed says he will fight the venture until his dying breath.
A new casino from a competing tribe would have an immense financial impact on the EBCI. Similarly, the entire economy of Western North Carolina could suffer.
Sneed predicts that a Kings Mountain casino could reduce Harrah’s annual revenue by $100 million.
A competing casino positioned closer to Charlotte would draw customers from the eastern side of the state. As it is now, residents from the Charlotte area and beyond make the drive to EBCI’s casinos in Cherokee and Murphy.
The EBCI filed a lawsuit against the US Department of Interior’s ruling that took Catawba’s property into trust. The tribe claims the March 12, 2020 decision “violates the plain language of federal law”.
Part of the lawsuit suggests that the Catawba Nation – which is a South Carolina tribe – only initiated endeavors in North Carolina because the tribe failed to obtain a similar Class III agreement in its home state.
The Cherokee also claim to have an ancestral tie to the land where the casino will be.
Judge James Boasberg granted a request from the EBCI back in December to expedite oral arguments, since the construction of the new casino is already underway. A hearing on the matter will likely occur this month.
In order to mitigate revenue losses, the EBCI has set out-of-state commercial gaming plans in motion.
The tribe is currently in negotiations with Caesars Entertainment, the brand that operates the tribe’s two casinos, to purchase Caesars Southern Indiana.
The Catawba Nation’s Class III gaming compact
Although Gov. Cooper signed the Catawba Nation’s gaming compact, the Department of Interior (DOI) will need to approve it before it becomes active.
The Catawba Nation doesn’t expect to run into any issues, however. That’s because its compact reflects the same model as the EBCI’s, which the DOI also approved.
The 30-year compact permits the tribe to offer Class III gaming and grants it exclusive gaming rights within multiple counties:
The compact also mentions that if the state permits anyone other than the Catawba to offer live table gaming in the area, the state forfeits its portion of Catawba gaming revenue.
North Carolina’s share of the gaming revenue
North Carolina’s share of gross live table gaming revenue begins at 5% and gradually increases to a maximum 8% share.
Once up and running, the state estimates a revenue between $5 million and $10 million.
Additionally, Catawba will pay the state $191,000 to cover the cost of regulating the casino’s sports betting endeavors. The EBCI is paying the same amount for regulation of their two casino’s sportsbooks.
The casino will also provide funding to the local community and Native American tribes beginning with a $1 million transfer and increasing to $7.5 million annually.
Technically, the Catawba are exempt from paying local property taxes since the casino will be erected on tribal trust land. In lieu of tax payments, the tribe has agreed to make payments to Cleveland County, where the casino will be built.
Temporary casino expected to open this fall
Despite the ongoing legal battle, construction on the project continues. The intent is to open a preliminary casino facility by the fall.
Groundbreaking on the site took place last July, and site preparation has continued since then.
Now that the compact has been signed, the initial vertical construction phase will begin.
The compact was sent to the DOI in early February, where it has 45 days to be approved or rejected.
Once approved, it will be full speed ahead for establishing this Catawba casino.