The Native American tribes of the United States have long held special provisions allowing them to conduct gambling activities in states that would otherwise have prohibited them. While gambling laws in the US have started easing and becoming more friendly to operators, the native tribes still have the most robust gambling operations in the country.
Two North Carolina tribes are now in a race to grow their casinos faster than the other — and the results are astonishing. While struggling against the other for supremacy in the region, they are also celebrating the amazing growth of their lavish casino resorts.
Ongoing Legal Tensions
Historically, the Cherokee tribe has been the primary tribe legally operating gambling establishments within the state… that is, until recently. In July of this year, the Catawba tribe entered the casino business as well.
When the US Department of Interior decided to approve the Catawba Indian Nation, a tribe based in South Carolina, to have lands taken into trust in Cherokee aboriginal territory in North Carolina for the sole purpose of building an off-reservation casino — the war between the Cherokee and Catawba began.
When the Catawbas decided to get into the casino business on the basis of ancestral claim to the Kings Mountain land, the Cherokee sued to reverse the prior US Department of the Interior ruling. A federal judge stated that he found no basis for this claim and the Cherokee’s appeal is still currently active in the courts.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee tribal council called this practice “reservation shopping,” an unscrupulous procedure in which a casino developer partners with a willing native tribe to coerce the federal government into creating a new reservation outside the tribe’s ancestral land for the purpose of expanding gaming activities.
Diversifying Tribal Revenue
In March 2021, the Cherokee opened the doors to regulated sports betting in the state when they launched two sports betting venues at the tribe’s two casinos in the mountains of North Carolina.
Later in the year, the Cherokee announced that they would be legalizing the growing and sale of medical marijuana on the tribe’s land in the western part of the state after a new measure was officially approved by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Council.
Multi-Million Dollar Expansions
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort just received a $330 million facelift, an expansion that is sure to spell success for the North Carolina tribe. This expansion includes a new hotel tower, called the Cherokee Tower, which is the tribe’s fourth such construct in the state.
The Cherokee Tower will be home to Guy Fieri’s Cherokee Kitchen + Bar, featuring a two-story open-air lobby and a second-floor terrace pool with incredible vistas of the Great Smokey Mountains.
Additionally, the Cherokee have built a brand new three-story, 83,000-square-foot convention center, complete with a massive ballroom and extensive exhibition hall.
The general manager of the tribe’s casinos, Brooks Robinson, general manager of the Cherokee tribe’s casinos, said the expansion further positions the Cherokee “as the leader in the entertainment industry in the Carolinas.” said the expansion further positions the Cherokee “as the leader in the entertainment industry in the Carolinas.”
While the Cherokee still seem to be leading the state’s gambling market, the Catawba tribe also has reason to celebrate its success. Since opening its first casino in July 2021, the tribe has had monumental success, according to tribal leaders.
Just west of Charlotte, North Carolina at the Two Kings Casino gaming facility in Kings Mountain, the Catawba tribe has begun expanding their casino offerings, adding another 500 machines to double their current property.
The president of the Catawba Nation Gaming Authority, Mike Ulizio, said that the tribe would like to finish the expansion as soon as possible to keep the good times rolling and continue the success that the tribe has seen over the last four months.
The 24/7 Catawba facility that opened in July is the first phase of the planned $273 million Two Kings Casino Resort. The tribe is still working on plans that include a large, temporary structure to allow the business to continue as usual while a more permanent structure can be built.
The Battle Rages On
As the Cherokee and Catawba tribes race to build ever more extravagant gaming facilities, the battle between the tribes for the lucrative land of North Carolina rages on. Both parties know that the extensive building projects will pay off in the long run, but the race to be the biggest is this year’s game.
The massive structures that tower over otherwise small to middling towns are the only evidence necessary to demonstrate the enormous amounts of money at stake here. With both native tribes looking to expand their gaming territory and lawsuits still moving through the courts, it will be interesting to watch the race to the finish.