Cherokee Tribe Investing In Gatlinburg-Area Land And Potential Gambling Expansion In TN

Posted on January 31, 2020 - Last Updated on March 20, 2020

A tribal entity that operates a casino and retail sportsbook in a neighboring state is coming to Tennessee. A Cherokee land purchase will redefine Sevier County.

The tribe has plans to buy 198 acres adjacent to Gatlinburg. While there are no immediate plans for gaming there, that could change in the future.

Details of the Cherokee land purchase in eastern TN

The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians plans to close on the land on January 31. The site sits on Interstate 40 just off Exit 407.

That area is not only a gateway to Gatlinburg but the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Pigeon Forge as well. Because of the location, it’s considered prime real estate.

The asking price for the plot was $13.5 million. It’s unclear exactly what the negotiated sale price for the tract was, however.

There is more certainty in what the Cherokee plan to do with the land. That’s somewhat limited by current law in the Volunteer State.

Cherokee planning a hotel resort in Tennessee?

The tribe’s business arm is considering placing a resort on the land. That could include multiple hotels.

Convention space and retail outlets are two more possibilities. Those could be mere placeholders for bigger plans later, however.

Currently, Tennessee law prohibits any other forms of gambling besides the state lottery and sports betting. That includes brick-and-mortar casinos and sportsbooks.

Just as the state law evolved regarding online sports wagering, however, it could change on other types of gambling expansion. The process for approving legal poker, slots and table games is an arduous one.

What it would take for Tennessee to expand gambling?

The state’s legislature would have to approve a bill to do so in two consecutive years. After that, the governor would have to sign off.

That wouldn’t be the last hurdle, however. The measure would then face a voter referendum, needing a simple majority.

Given the fact that current Gov. Bill Lee simply let the sports betting bill become law instead of signing it, expressing a lack of personal support for it, there’s a strong possibility he would veto any more gambling expansion. Any movement to expand gambling in the Volunteer State may have to wait for a future governor to take office.

Lee is up for reelection in 2022, so perhaps that will be the time for gambling proponents to act. Even if a new governor who has a more favorable view of gaming were to take office, that wouldn’t mean the state’s legislators or voters would share that sentiment.

Because of those reasons, the Eastern Band of Cherokees is likely focused on the opportunities in front of it now. There is still great potential to turn a profit from the land within the current legal framework.

Given that the band now has a presence in the state, it’s also an option for them to apply for an online sportsbook license. Because they will soon offer legal wagering in North Carolina, the band has some experience with that vertical.

That’s all in the realm of possibility right now. What’s inevitable is that new commercial developments are coming to Sevier County courtesy of the Cherokee.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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