Council gives green light to EBCI Holdings on casino bid

by May 7, 2022NEWS ka-no-he-da0 comments



One Feather Staff


Tribal Council has given EBCI Holdings, Inc. approval to go ahead with a bid process seeking to build two new casinos.  Res. No. 245, submitted by Scott Barber, EBCI Holdings chief executive officer, was approved by Tribal Council during a Special Session called by Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed on the morning of Wednesday, April 13.

“It allows us to go into a new state with a gaming property under a partnership agreement so the Tribe’s not on the hook 100 percent.  We will actually have a 44 percent equity stake,” said Cory Blankenship, EBCI Secretary of Finance and a board member of EBCI Holdings.  “And, we’ll have the opportunity, if we’re the winning bidder, to develop two gaming properties in a new jurisdiction.”

Secretary Blankenship spoke on the investment required in the proposal dubbed Project Thoroughbred, “The total project cost is $90 million.  In our position, what we’re asking for is a $25 million equity commitment from the Tribe that will come from the Tribe’s Reserve Accounts.  There’s a $2.5 million commitment upfront that will be paid from an EBCI Holdings account.”

Res. No. 245 passed by a vote of 8-2 with Wolftown Reps. Bill Taylor and Bo Crowe voting against and Cherokee Co. – Snowbird Rep. Adam Wachacha and Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy being absent.  The legislation addressed the quick turn-around time for the project and the need for the Special Session stating, “…due to the short time between when EBCI Holdings, Inc. first learned of the opportunity and the impending deadline for submitting a bid, EBCI Holdings, LLC was first able to discuss the project with tribal leaders at the conclusion of the Business Committee meeting held on April 12, 2022.  The tribal leaders present at the time were the Principal Chief, Vice Chief, the Chairman and Vice Chairman of Tribal Council, and most Tribal Council members.”

Rep. Taylor asked during the discussion, “This is my 10th year in Council, and I’ve seen how it works.  If you want something done real quick, then it is ‘time sensitive’.  How long have you known about this project?  How long have you been working on this?”

Secretary Blankenship said EBCI Holdings had been working on the project for 10 days prior to Wednesday’s meeting.  “I think it’s a good opportunity.  When we look at casino deals, when we look at the commercial gaming market, this price tag seems like a high dollar amount – $90 million is a relatively low cost of entry.  Rather than that, we’re talking about a $44 million equity deal and $25 million investment from the Tribe.

He added, “To get into an actual casino deal – to build two casinos facilities right out of the ground – $25 million is a relatively low bar for getting into that position…we’re not the only ones seeking this opportunity, but it appears that we are in the lead because of the reputation of the Eastern Band because of the reputation of EBCI Holdings out there analyzing these deals and because we have a 30-year track record of being responsible in this industry.  I think that we’ve got a really good shot at this, and it is time sensitive.”

Yellowhill Rep. T.W. Saunooke supported the idea, “These opportunities, when they come up, we need to be ready to act.  We’re not always going to have months and months to discuss and put it out there and deliberate and talk and go back and forth.  The speed of business outside the Reservation is quick.  Land transactions, business deals, everything that we are looking at as we move forward, it moves differently outside of here.  We are making moves to where we are placing entities in these positions to make decisions and help us make decisions that will move this Tribe forward.”

One of the major questions discussed involved revenue allocation; in other words, would revenue from this project be added to per capita distributions for members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians?

Secretary Blankenship addressed the issue stating, “If we’re successful in securing this bid and we actually get the project up and running, we would come back to the Tribal Council with a revenue allocation plan about where those funds would go and the projected allocation by the Tribe.”

Rep. Taylor pressed asking, “Is it or is it not going to go into per cap?”

Secretary Blankenship answered, “That’s your decision.”

CEO Barber, speaking at the meeting via Zoom, said, “This (project) will contemplate building two facilities, and we would own the facilities.”

Rep. Saunooke noted that this will be a bricks and mortar project for EBCI Holdings.  “I just wanted to clarify that there is going to be a tangible asset attached to this project.”

Vice Chief Alan B. Ensley also supported the project and spoke of the need to add to the Tribe’s revenue stream.  “We know what we’re facing now as far as the competition goes.  We’ve got to act…we know we’re on very thin ice.  We could be in major trouble if we’re not proactive.”

He also supported the idea of revenue from the project being added into the per capita distribution for tribal members stating, “I think it should, but that’s a Council decision.”

Chief Sneed spoke just prior to the vote noting, “Every time an opportunity comes up, almost with fail the first question that comes up is ‘is it going to per cap?’  On this particular project, that is certainly a possibility with that, but it falls with this body (Council) to make that determination when it comes to the distribution.  I do want to say to all the citizens watching that, in my opinion, there needs to be a shift in our mindset.  We enjoy the benefits that we enjoy today because a quarter of a century ago there was some courageous Council members and a Chief who voted, ratified, and passed gaming in the face of opposition, because they had a vision of where this Tribe could be.”

He concluded, “We have a responsibility now to pay that forward and to plan seven generations forward.  Yes, this can go to per capita, but my plea to the people is to have the same vision for future generations of Cherokees who will come after – that they may enjoy the same benefits that we enjoy now, and not that every time a project comes up the only determining factor is whether or not an individual citizen will support it is if they are going to get something right now.”