By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
Tribal Council passed two amendments (known as the Second Amendment and the Third Amendment) to the Management Agreement with Harrah’s NC Casino Company, LLC during a Special Council Session on Tuesday, Sept. 22. The amendments, brought forth in the form of two resolutions by Principal Chief Michell Hicks on behalf of the TCGE Board of Advisors, were necessary for Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy to open on Monday, Sept. 28.
Chief Hicks told Council at the start of the session that he received a letter from NIGC requesting some changes to the management agreement. He related that he received a verbal agreement from NIGC Chairman Jonodev Osceola Chaudhur that the Commission would approve the amendments once sent to them.
“The Tribe can move ahead,” said Chief Hicks. “We can open on September 28.”
The Third Amendment states in part, “The New Gaming Facility (Valley River) is scheduled to open to the public on September 28, 2015, and the New Management Agreement remains under NIGC review and is not yet approved, and the parties to the New Management Agreement are the same as the parties to the Existing Management Agreement and can temporarily operate and manage the New Gaming Facility under the terms of the Existing Management Agreement.”
While both resolutions were passed, not everyone was in agreement.
Tribal Council Chairwoman Terri Henry voted against the Third Amendment. “I don’t like the idea of the Tribe doing stop-gap measures for something that we have professional staff to follow-up and make sure that our primary stated documents are the ones that go forward. I don’t the idea of doing stop-gap measures because it makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing.”
Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe, and Birdtown Rep. Albert Rose also voted against the Third Amendment.
Rep. McCoy said during the discussion on the issue, “I am not happy with this. We spent $110 million on a casino in Cherokee County, and it has been nothing but a nightmare.”
She asked the TCGE Board about the timing of this issue and said someone should be held accountable for the last-minute concerns.
“We’ve been working diligently since January to get that approved and we just got that letter that the NIGC still has some issues,” Eddie Huskey, TCGE Board, stated.
He said NIGC has copies of the two amendments, “They have reviewed those and have given their preliminary approval on those.”
Rep. McCoy stressed the importance of the Tribe’s gaming operation, “Every service that this Tribe provides has a gaming dollar on it.”
She also inquired about the sale of alcohol at the Valley River property and Huskey confirmed that it will be sold.
“Our people didn’t vote to do that,” said Rep. McCoy. “They voted specifically to do that at the property here in Cherokee.”
Rep. Crowe agreed, “Everybody in the community stated that the Cherokee County casino shouldn’t be allowed to serve alcohol and that it should go to a referendum also.”
Prior to the vote, Huskey was asked what would happen if Council did not pass the two amendments, and he answered, “We won’t open. For every day we don’t open, we’ll lose around $200,000 – $300,000.”
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke commented, “We can place blame or pass the buck, but we need to get on with it.”
Huskey said the casino is setting records in revenue for the year. “We’re set to give the Tribe $310 million this year – the highest ever.”
Harrah’s Cherokee released a report on Monday, Sept. 21 stating that the “direct regional impact” of the Valley River Casino is over $26 million in construction expenses.
“Everything from steel to food service is included in the total, so many businesses benefited,” said Lumpy Lambert, Valley River general manager. “This amount doesn’t include the additional monies paid by sub-contractors for housing and food during the project, but it’s a sizable amount. I’m very pleased we could keep so much in western North Carolina.”
Casino officials also reported that over 1,000 employees have been hired so far at Valley River.