Catawba Nation Plans Groundbreaking for $300M North Carolina Casino As Federal Lawsuit Ongoing

Posted on: July 19, 2020, 08:42h. 

Last updated on: July 20, 2020, 11:08h.

The Catawba Indian Nation plans to break ground Wednesday on a casino resort near Charlotte, N.C., even though a rival tribe continues a court case against the planned $300 million project.

Catawba casino groundbreaking
A 2018 rendering of the casino the Catawba nation plans for Kings Mountain, N.C. Tribal leaders expect to break ground on the $300 million project on Wednesday. (Image: Bring Catawba Resort & Casino to NC/Facebook)

The Charlotte Observer reported Friday that the Catawba tribe plans to open the casino by early next summer.

In March, the US Department of the Interior approved an application by the Catawba nation to take about 16 acres of land located in Kings Mountain, N.C. into a trust.

The Catawbas Tribe, though, is based in South Carolina, and until the DOI ruling four months ago, all their land was in the Palmetto State. Because of the Settlement Act, the nation had to abide by the gaming laws of South Carolina, which prohibits casino gaming, until it secured land elsewhere.

North Carolina currently has two casinos in operation, and both belong to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, who vehemently oppose Catawba’s plans.

ECBI Takes Issue to Court

Shortly after the Interior Department signed off on the casino plan, the EBCI filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to stop the project. Two weeks ago, tribal leaders filed an amended lawsuit in a District of Columbia federal district court.

The band has been joined in the case by the Cherokee Nation, based in Oklahoma, which claims it has cultural artifacts located on the planned casino site that need to be preserved.

Eastern Band officials say the Catawba project is a blatant example of “reservation shopping,” where casino developers find a willing tribe to work with a community that wants casino gaming, and work to get federal approval for the project.

Cherokee leaders say the Kings Mountain project is the work of Wallace Cheves.

Despite political contributions and questionable lobbying campaigns conducted by Mr. Cheves, the facts and the law are clearly on the side of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and our fellow plaintiffs,” said Richard G. Sneed, ECBI principal chief, in a statement. “We feel confident we will be vindicated by the court.”

In the amended complaint, ECBI seeks an injunction against federal leaders from awarding the North Carolina land to a trust for Catawba. The Cherokees also request that federal officials complete an environmental impact study and that the defendants engage them in “good faith” discussions that would include an archaeological and cultural survey of the proposed casino site.

The lawsuit lists the DOI and Interior Secretary David Bernhardt among the defendants.

Neither federal officials nor Catawba leaders have responded to the amended complaint.

Catawba Casino Not Only Threat

The Charlotte-area casino is just one threat facing the EBCI venues, which are located in the western part of North Carolina near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Later this year voters in five Virginia communities will go to the polls to decide if they want to allow casino gaming in their towns. That includes Bristol, which is about 100 miles from the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, and Danville. Danville is more than 200 miles away, but could lure people from central parts of North Carolina away from the Cherokee casinos, which have been in the area for more than 20 years.