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home : news : news May 24, 2019

3/16/2019 10:28:00 AM
Casino Back In The News
This artist's concept of the proposed casino is from the Facebook page of the pro-casino group Bring Catawba Resort & Casino to NC.
This artist's concept of the proposed
casino is from the Facebook page
of the pro-casino group Bring
Catawba Resort & Casino to NC.

Wayne Howard
Staff Writer

There has been talk since 2012 about the possibility of a casino being built just off Interstate 85 near Kings Mountain. The Catawba Indian Nation gained federal recognition in 1993. Just under three thousand tribal members live on a recognized reservation in upstate South Carolina of some 1,000 acres. The legislation recognizing the tribe also set aside $50 million to assist the Catawbas in acquiring more land in their ancestral home which includes most of the state of South Carolina, plus Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, Rutherford, Cleveland, and Gaston counties in North Carolina. That’s the money that would be used to acquire 16 acres just off I-85 on state road 1301 in Kings Mountain for the casino which was proposed in 2013 but has yet to receive federal approval.

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham introduced a bill Wednesday (March 13th), with North Carolina Senators Thom Tillis and Richard Burr as co-sponsors, that would put the land off I-85 into a trust for the Catawba Indian Tribe for the construction of a casino.

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The Catawba Indian Tribe submitted an application in September 2013 to the US Department of the Interior for land trust and casino rights for the land off I-85 at exit 5. The application has been pending with the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and had been for most all but forgotten until recently.

Now, with Graham's bill introduced, the fight over the casino proposal has intensified.

A Facebook friend of mine posted last weekend: "Took a call this morning from a pollster who wanted to record me making a statement opposed to a SC tribe coming to NC to open a casino...I guess I've not been keeping up with the news, because this is the first I've heard this mentioned. Anyway, I said, 'What if I'm in favor of it? Will you use my answer?' When she said, 'No, we just want the opposition,' I told her that she could not have my opinion...Geez."

She received several responses--including my own. Since I was quite familiar with the proposal, I responded:

The Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce is among those who have endorsed the casino, which would bring at least two new hotels, a 220,000 sq ft casino, and some four to five thousand jobs to the area. Many have complained about Harrah's Cherokee casino that too much of the money goes to the same people who own most of the Las Vegas gambling. Harrah's actually gets 3% of the money. 50% of the money goes directly to the Cherokees--who now receive (if they are enrolled tribal members) about $12,000 annually. Those who work at the casino also earn an average of about $37,000 annually. From the money that goes to the tribe (that $12,000 is paid to individual members) the tribe has used its casino revenues to build a new high school, a hospital, and public housing, and to upgrade services on the reservation including police, fire and EMS. If approved, it's expected that the Catawba Indian Casino would likely do as much or more business than Harrah's Cherokee since it would be located just off I-85 and only 30 miles from Charlotte.

Since the Graham bill was introduced, Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler said he supports the move to push the proposed the casino forward due to its potential economic impact on the area. Cleveland County Commissioners issued a statement saying they support economic development projects that will create new jobs, but stopping short of full endorsement of the casino, saying the matter is up to the US Senate and other federal agencies.

The application the Catawbas submitted over five years ago called for a 1.8 million-square-foot facility, which would include a casino and a hotel.

As expected, the bill drew a negative comment from the Eastern Band of Cherokees.

The phone call our Facebook friend received was likely (we can't be sure) from a group that calls itself the Kings Mountain Awareness Group founded on February 4, 2014. They have a Facebook page and a website:

In reponse to the comments on her post, our Facebook friend then wrote:
"I lived near the Cherokee Casino in WNC, and it was a big tourism draw. No big deal, though. Good for economy. But I wasn't prepared to tell her yay or nay...didn't like the way she went about it.

The Kings Mountain Awareness Group's Facebook page posted information urging those who oppose the casino to contact Graham, Tillis and Burr and listing information on reaching their offices. They also posted links to a couple of articles, one from Forbes magazine, the other from CNN, talking about the problems caused by casinos. Both, by the way, were from six years ago. One was written by Kerri Toloczko, who is well-known for articles taking right-wing views published in several publications including Breitbart. The other was penned by a former speech-writer for President George W. Bush.

While the articles are several years old, much of the information they contain appears valid. There has long been a suspected tie between organized crime and gambling. Money laundering is just one of the things that casinos make possible. They also tend to attract other criminal enterprises including prostitution and illegal drugs. While the casino in Cherokee has had some positive impact for the community, older enterprises have faltered since it opened.

As with most hot issues, there's a Facebook page from the pro-casino crowd, too. It's called Bring Catawba Resort & Casino to NC. Of course, most of the posts on that Facebook page are in favor of the casino.

Graham’s bill could bypass the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Interior Department and have the tribe’s trust approved by Congress.

It's the latest skirmish in the battle over the proposed casino, which has now been going on for at least six years.

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