Catawba Nation Acquires Nine Acres for Bewildering $40M

Posted on: March 20, 2024, 09:05h. 

Last updated on: March 20, 2024, 12:06h.

The Catawba Nation has acquired 9.4 acres of land in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, next to the Tribe’s temporary casino facility for a staggering $40 million. The transaction was completed last month, according to county property records, with the seller being Kings Mountain Land Development Partners, LLC.

Catawba Nation Two Kings Casino
The temporary Catawba Two Kings Casino in North Carolina’s Kings Mountain is pictured in June 2023. The Catawba Nation is expanding its temporary casino with the introduction of table games after acquiring about 9.5 acres. (Image: Wikimedia)

With the newly acquired property, the Tribe plans to expand its modular gaming facility to feature 12 table games, including blackjack, craps, roulette, and mini-baccarat. The live dealer offerings are expected to take bets this summer.

The Catawba Two Kings temporary casino currently features 1,000 slot machines and electronic table game positions, a sportsbook powered by IGT, a café, and a food truck. The casino operates 24/7 and is smoke-free.

The Tribe’s acquisition includes the 3.5-acre paved parking lot and about 5.9 acres of undeveloped land where the modular gaming facility will expand.

Resort Remains on Hold

The Catawba Nation remains beleaguered in building its permanent casino resort in Kings Mountain, about 30 miles west of Charlotte. The Tribe wants to construct a $273 million destination casino resort with a 400-room hotel and 3,000 slot machines, 120 table games, and a sportsbook.

Those plans, which date back over a decade, have been delayed because of the Tribe’s relationship with North Carolina businessman Wallace Cheves. The politically connected Cheves helped the Catawba restore their sovereign land by having the approximately 17 acres of land the Tribe controlled in Kings Mountain placed into the federal trust.

Cheves, a Republican megadonor, made sure leaders in Raleigh and the state’s congressional delegation in Washington, D.C. helped pave the way for the small Tribe to open a casino in Cleveland County. In exchange for guiding the Tribe through the complex federal land-into-trust process, the Tribe agreed to allow Cheves and his SkyBoat Gaming, LLC to finance and then partially own the Tribal casino.

That’s where Cheves’ influence apparently ended. As SkyBoat and the Catawba Nation readied to break ground on the permanent casino, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) interjected and said the partnership violated the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The NIGC said the Tribe’s business arrangement with Cheves allowed SkyBoat, a commercial business, to have too much control of a Tribal operation. Questions were also raised about Cheve’s checkered past, which includes millions of dollars in civil and criminal fines related to his alleged operation of illegal video poker and electronic bingo machines in several states.

“As I’ve said to Congress, a person with this illegal gaming history couldn’t get work as a bingo caller,” said Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which owns Harrah’s Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in southwestern North Carolina. 

Costly Prenup

The Catawbas must rework or terminate their relationship with Cheves before the NIGC will clear the Tribe to move forward with the permanent casino. The Tribe says it’s finalizing the resort blueprint while it works to remedy the NICG concerns regarding SkyBoat’s control of the project.

A 2021 agreement mandates the Tribe to pay Cheves $125 million to terminate the partnership. Tribal leaders say they cannot afford such an amount and that SkyBoat came up with the fee “based on air.”

Catawba Nation Chief Brian Harris, who was elected only last year, has been negotiating a more reasonable split.  This week’s news that Cheves is receiving $40 million for less than 9.5 acres of rural land could be the first step in appeasing the businessman.

The transaction price certainly seems overgenerous. Real estate listings currently show a 52.5-acre undeveloped tract located less than four miles north of the Catawba Two Kings Casino on the market for just $2.5 million.