By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The Catawba Indian Nation is the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina. The 2,800-member tribe wants to open a casino, but they wish to go across the border to North Carolina to do so.
“The Catawba Nation ancestral lands run throughout the Carolinas and well into Virginia, although the federal government now recognizes our service area as South Carolina and part of North Carolina,” Catawba Chief Bill Harris said in a recent statement.
Chief Harris related that the Tribe has filed an application with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to take 16 acres located in Cleveland County, North Carolina into trust for gaming purposes. “We are hopeful that the BIA will move quickly to approve our application.”
The Tribe is proposing a 220,000 square/foot gaming facility to include two hotels totaling 750 guest rooms. Catawba leaders, as well as regional leaders, are touting the economic impact to the region.
“The economic impacts made by the construction, operation and supporting businesses will be significant,” wrote Cleveland County manager David C. Dear in a letter to North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory. “This additional revenue stream will give our community the ability to provide many new services for our residents that we have been unable to provide in the past.”
Cleveland County Chamber of Commerce president Michael Chrisawn commented, “For more than a decade, Cleveland County has faced high unemployment and economic challenges, given the loss of our manufacturing infrastructure. While many North Carolinians are witnessing an economic recovery, our region of the state has witnessed what amounts to a prolonged economic depression.”
According to the N.C. Department of Commerce, the state unemployment rate for July 2013 was 8.9 percent. Cleveland County reported a rate that month of 10.4 percent.
“Our Nation and the people of the Carolinas are entering into a partnership to bring 4,000 much-needed new jobs and growth to a region hit hard by a tough economy,” Chief Harris said in a statement.
An economic impact study (Economic Impact Study for Catawba) prepared for the Catawbas by Miley & Associates, Inc. from Columbia, SC states that the total economic impact to the area during the construction phase would be in excess of $468 million and would total $300 million annually once in operation.
Principal Chief Michell Hicks voiced his concerns in a statement, “Since becoming aware of the Cleveland County casino project, we have been closely monitoring and attempting to evaluate the impact it would have upon Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. Based on the newly released information provided by Cleveland County, we are greatly concerned that this development will negatively impact job growth and revenue at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and for the western region of North Carolina. We will continue to monitor the project and make a full determination as to the full impact it will have on Cherokee.”
The casino proposal does not appear to have much support in the North Carolina General Assembly House of Representatives. A total of 102 of the 120 House members signed a letter (House Letter to Secretary Jewell) sent to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Wednesday, Sept. 4 expressing their “serious opposition” to the land being taken into trust for gaming purposes.
The letter, signed by House Speaker Thom Tillis and House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam among others, stated, “Gambling is a matter the federal government leaves within the purview of the states. Within the State of North Carolina, we have carefully balanced the interests of our state citizens and the rights of tribes. We respectfully request that we be notified of any applications for land to be taken into trust by any federally recognized tribe not based in North Carolina so we can participate in that process and make our views clear.”
John L. Rustin, of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, concurred, “Clearly, the North Carolina House has voiced its ‘serious opposition’ to such an effort by the Catawba Indian Nation. The North Carolina Family Policy Council could not agree more!”
The Catawba land-into-trust application is currently under review at the BIA.