A federal court judge has ruled in favor of the Catawba Indian Nation in a lawsuit attempting to stop the tribe from breaking ground on its new North Carolina casino.
Tennessee residents will soon have three casinos to choose from in the Tar Heel State.
Move Over, Harrah’s Cherokee
Two Kings Casino Resort will open its temporary facility this fall in Kings Mountain, about 30 minutes west of Charlotte. The project hasn’t been without its opponents, however.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians filed a lawsuit back in March 2020 after the federal Department of Interior approved Catawba’s application to take the land at Kings Mountain into trust.
According to US District Judge James Boasberg, the claims filed by the EBCI were unfounded, lacking both basis and merit.
The Cherokees argued that historically, the land has always been theirs and that the department violated US law by granting the land trust to the Catawba Indian Nation.
Perhaps the more pressing issue, however, is that a new casino in the state will result in a substantial loss of income for the tribe. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians own the only two casinos currently operating in North Carolina.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is located west of Asheville, just an hour’s drive through the mountains from Tennessee.
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino is located further south, an hour from the connecting border of Georgia and Tennessee.
Harrah’s markets heavily to out-of-state-residents.
For instance, Harrah’s new sportsbook The Book has two billboards that greet those passing through Knoxville, Tennessee, a state where sports betting is already legal.
The only difference is, at Harrah’s, customers can wager on sports and gamble at a casino simultaneously.
Tennessee still prohibits casino gambling.
Catawba continues with casino plans despite lawsuit
Catawba has been looking to get its hand in the proverbial cookie jar of North Carolina casino gambling for quite some time now.
According to the Indian Gaming Regulation Act, Native American tribes must receive federal recognition and approval before constructing a casino. The tribe filed an application with the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs in September 2013 requesting casino rights and a land trust on a 16-acre property in Kings Mountain.
After five years of limited action on the application, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina introduced the bill into legislation, after which the application was approved by an act of Congress.
This is when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians moved in to stake their own claim.
Traditionally, Catawba land claims extended from South Carolina, through North Carolina, and into Virginia. In fact, the Catawba Indian Nation has been the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina since 1993.
North Carolina, however, federally recognizes eight tribes – one of those being the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.
The Catawba do not appear on that list.
Catawba casino plans pick up speed
Despite the ongoing lawsuit, plans for the initial Two Kings facility are gaining momentum. The tribe broke ground on the site in July of 2020.
Then in January of this year, they signed a revenue-sharing compact with Gov. Roy Cooper to permit Vegas-style gambling at the new casino. With Class III gaming, the casino can operate house-banked slots and table games.
Otherwise, a Class II Two Kings would have been limited to only operating casino games played against other players.
Catawba is now fast-tracking plans for the $273 million casino with the lawsuit out of the equation.
Earlier this month, Catawba moved up the scheduled opening of the temporary facility to July 1 of this year. The preliminary facility will feature 500 slot machines as well as limited food, drink, and entertainment selections.
The permanent casino opens in 2022. Once the launch is complete, construction will then continue on the hotel and entertainment portions of the facility.
Catawba Chief Bill Harris sees the build as a positive step for the community:
“With the completion of our compact with the State of North Carolina, the Catawba Nation is eager to open the casino as quickly as possible to begin bringing economic benefits and jobs to the state and region.”
Nobody knows fhe full economic impact of this decision. One thing is certain, though, Catawba may be the new casino in town, but they’ve come to compete.