Catawba Nation Breaks Ground On New NC Casino, Cherokees Continue Legal Challenge

Posted on July 23, 2020

Against the backdrop of a federal lawsuit aiming to stop them, the Catawba Indian Nation is moving ahead with plans to build a new casino resort in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. The tribe demonstrated that intention on Wednesday with a groundbreaking at the property’s intended site.

Speaking at the event, Catawba Nation Chief William Harris once more characterized the building of the $300 million casino as “a righting of a historical wrong,” reports WBTV. Plans call for construction to proceed quickly, with a targeted opening of spring or summer 2021.

Catawba chief talks jobs, unity at groundbreaking

Wednesday’s groundbreaking came after the US Department of the Interior (DOI) approved the Catawba tribe’s land in trust of 16 acres in Kings Mountain in March.

Early plans involve the construction of a 220,000-square-foot complex on the site located near I-85. The resort will include:

  • A 1,500-room hotel
  • Concert venue
  • Restaurants
  • Shopping

There will also be a sizable casino, with estimates ranging from 1,300 to 1,800 electronic gaming devices and over 50 table games.

Harris and the Catawba tribe say the project will bring 4,000 new jobs to the Kings Mountain area. Harris explained how the project will benefit the tribe as well, enabling the building of schools on the reservation.

The scene at the groundbreaking was celebratory, with local officials and city leaders joining Catawba Nation representatives to dig the first shovels of dirt on the property.

However, Chief Harris did indirectly allude at one point to an ongoing challenge to the project, the federal lawsuit against it being pursued by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians headquartered in Cherokee, North Carolina.

“Indigenous people have had a hard road of hope for many, many years,” said Harris. “So if we can come together, then there’s a phrase out there: this is ‘strength in unity.’ So instead of doing inner fighting, let’s unite and make something better.”

Cherokees seeking legal means to prevent Catawba casino in NC

The prohibition of casino gambling in South Carolina had prompted the Catawba Nation to acquire land in North Carolina. The favorable March ruling from the Department of the Interior culminated several years’ worth of effort by the Catawba tribe.

It was just days after the DOI ruling, however, that the Cherokees filed a federal lawsuit to halt the casino’s construction.

The Cherokee tribe operates the state’s only two casinos, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy. Both are located in the mountainous westernmost part of the state, about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Kings Mountain.

Kings Mountain is located near Gastonia, about 35 miles west of Charlotte. The new casino site is about 10 miles from the South Carolina border and the tribe’s Rock Hill, SC, headquarters. In other words, the new Catawba casino will be much more accessible to those from Charlotte and the rest of North Carolina.

Project’s history includes possible political pressure, donations

The Cherokees’ objections aren’t simply motivated by market concerns, however. Their lawsuit includes multiple allegations, including that the DOI violated federal law by granting its approval.

The original application for the land in trust had been denied in 2018. But the Catawba Nation continued their efforts, backed in part by North Carolina Sens. Thom Tillis and Richard Burr and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham.

Graham introduced a bill in the Senate that would have authorized the acquisition. That bill failed to make it out of committee, but the DOI chose to approve the application, anyway.

The Cherokees’ lawsuit names the DOI as well as other officials. In May it was amended to include further information regarding what it sees as a “shady scheme” being perpetrated by casino developer Wallace Cheves, who is working with the Catawba tribe.

WBTV notes that Cheves “has given nearly $500,000 to President Trump, the Republican Party, US Sens. Thom Tillis and Lindsey Graham, and other GOP lawmakers.”

The Cherokees had sought a preliminary injunction against the project moving forward. But that request was denied by US District Judge James Boasberg, who ruled the Cherokees had not suffered “irreparable harm” from the DOI ruling.

Both the lawsuit’s ultimate outcome and other factors, including the uncertain economy, may well affect the Catawbas’ timetable. But for now, plans proceed toward building a third tribal casino in North Carolina.

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Martin Harris

Martin Harris is a writer and teacher who has reported on poker, online gambling, and sports betting since the mid-2000s. Once a full-time academic (Ph.D., English), he currently teaches part-time in the American Studies program at UNC Charlotte. His book Poker & Pop Culture was published by D&B Books in 2019.

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