By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
An amended management agreement between Harrah’s NC Casino Company, LLC and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians was presented to Tribal Council during its regular Budget Council session on Tuesday, April 4. A resolution to pass the agreement was tabled so that a work session could be held for further discussion on the document.
“We’ve negotiated a better management agreement for the Tribe with Harrah’s,” said Mike McConnell, an attorney with the EBCI Office of the Attorney General who served on the negotiating team. “We were able to maintain our relationship with Harrah’s, and we have a good deal moving forward.”
According to the resolution, some of the caveats of this new agreement include: bringing the management of both Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel under one agreement, increasing the duration of the management agreement to seven years, decreasing the management fee paid to Harrah’s from 3.75 percent in years 1-3 to 3.50 percent in years 4-7, and Harrah’s agrees to make a $1.25 million community donation earmarked for “community improvement and enhancement” and continue its $500,000 annual donation to the Tribe’s scholarship fund.
“I do think this is a good agreement,” McConnell noted. “We did work very diligently on it. It provides benefits for the Tribe that were not present in the old versions.”
Danny Davis, EBCI Attorney General, said he has reviewed most of the agreement. “If you look at some of the concessions that were made from Harrah’s, it looks like actually a better deal than we had before.”
John Houser, TCGE chairman and part of the negotiation team, commented on Tuesday, “This new agreement will save the Tribe roughly $8 million versus the agreement that we were currently operating under. It was a good negotiation. The effort from Harrah’s was very fair…we feel very good about the agreement.”
He added, “It’s the same agreement really that we’ve been operating under since we opened the casino except the deal just keeps getting a little bit better.”
Houser said the new management agreement “is the best deal in Indian County” and noted that the management fee with Harrah’s started at 28 percent when Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort first opened in 1997.
The agreement, although not approved by Tribal Council yet, is currently at the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) for initial approval, said Houser who added that they were under a deadline date of March 30 to get the initial agreement to NIGC. “We were able to get it to the NIGC for their pending approval, and it has been approved subject to this body’s (Tribal Council) approval, and of course, the Chief’s approval. It can still be changed because it hasn’t been ratified by this body yet.”
Ann Hines Davis, TCGE attorney who served on the negotiation team, explained, “They (NIGC) understand that there may be some tweaks to it.” She noted an extension of six months has been granted from NIGC for final approval by tribal government.
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha made the motion for the resolution to be tabled for a work session and more discussion. “I wanted the Chairman (Taylor) to be involved in the negotiation so we could be included in the conversations with everything that was being negotiated…”
He said he understands that the major tenets of the agreement have remained unchanged, but did note, “It may not have changed, but moving forward there’s some things that need to be clarified. It needs to be more black and white and not so grey when it deals with the relationship between Harrah’s and this government.”