Tribal Gaming

Members Petition EBCI Tribal Council to Reconsider Caesars Southern Indiana Purchase

Nearly three weeks after the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians voted to go ahead with the purchase of Caesars Southern Indiana, a group of tribal members has filed a petition seeking to overturn that decision. The group includes a former chief and two sitting Tribal Council members.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians entered into an agreement to buy Caesars Southern Indiana, seen here in an undated picture. Now, 14 tribal members want the EBCI Tribal Council to reconsider that deal. (Image: WLKY-TV)

According to the Smoky Mountain News, the petition takes issue with several items that led to the council vote on Dec. 17. It claims that the special meeting did not meet the requirement for an emergency session. It also claims the limited liability company the tribal nation established to run commercial gaming operations runs afoul of the EBCI charter.

The 14 individuals also raise concerns about spending $250 million, including up to $120 million from tribal endowments, on the purchase of a casino during a time of economic uncertainty.

Purchasing another gaming facility during a pandemic and with the knowledge that gaming facilities across the country are losing revenue is a fool’s errand,” the resolution reads, according to the Smoky Mountain News.

According to the paper, petitioners include former Principal Chief Michell Hicks and two current EBCI Council members, Albert Rose and Bo Crowe.

Principal Chief Richard Sneed has led the charge for EBCI to expand into commercial gaming. The sovereign nation owns 57,000 acres of property in western North Carolina and operates two casinos on that land. However, another tribal casino being built near Charlotte could have about a $100 million annual impact on the Cherokees.

Concerns About Indiana Law

On Dec. 24, a week after the Tribal Council approved purchasing the casino in a 48-45 vote, Caesars Entertainment announced it reached an agreement to sell the casino to the tribe.

Caesars was under pressure to sell the casino by Dec. 31 in order to meet an Indiana Gaming Commission requirement to sell three of its five properties. IGC commissioners required that when they approved the Eldorado Resorts takeover of Caesars last July.

In order to operate a commercial casino, tribal leaders needed to establish a privately held company. The tribe owns 100 percent of that company, EBCI Holdings LLC. However, it’s possible that only two of its five board seats will go to enrolled EBCI members. Initially, the Tribal Council will appoint the board members. But eventually, the company will take over new appointments.

Another concern with purchasing Caesars, according to a member who spoke anonymously with Casino.org, is an Indiana gaming law that caps how much revenue owners can take from their properties.

Under tribal casino law, EBCI gets full control of the revenues its two Harrah’s casinos generate. Part of that money goes to twice-yearly direct payments to enrolled members, with the EBCI government receiving the rest. According to the EBCI’s Office of Budget and Finance Facebook page, the per capita allotments in 2020 were $5,859 in June and $4,899 in December. Both of those payments were down from 2019, with the December payment down by $2,315.

Under Indiana law, the LLC will only be able to give the tribe 25 percent of the annual revenue it receives from running Caesars Southern Indiana. However, Sneed, in previous council meetings, said the remaining LLC revenue would be used to help acquire or develop new commercial gaming ventures.

According to the Indiana Gaming Commission’s Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report, Caesars Southern Indiana reported a total win of $171.7 million. That ranked third among the state’s 12 commercially licensed casinos.

In order to make up for the potential income hit the tribe expects, Sneed said EBCI will need to operate at least two more commercial casinos on par with Caesars Southern Indiana.

Sneed: Caesars Purchase Right for EBCI

A spokesperson for Sneed did not respond to a Casino.org message seeking comment. However, in a statement to the Smoky Mountain News, Sneed said his record as the tribe’s leader shows he has the best interests for its members. He remains confident in the commercial gaming venture.

“I am happy to speak with any tribal citizen that has concerns about this project, as I fully believe it is the best next step forward in the EBCI’s larger economic diversification plan to sustain tribal programs and services in years to come,” he said.

The EBCI Tribal Council was scheduled to meet on Thursday. However, because of a spike in COVID cases, the meeting has been pushed back a week.

Steve Bittenbender

Horse Racing, Sports Betting, Gaming Legislation, Midwest and Gulfport Casinos----Steve Bittenbender is a veteran reporter, and brings more than two decades of experience covering sports, gaming business, and politics and legislation to Casino.org, which he joined in 2019. Based in Louisville, Kentucky -- the epicenter of the US horse racing industry -- Steve has also covered major collegiate and professional sports for the Associated Press and the Louisville Courier Journal, and is frequently featured on local network TV newscasts and podcasts for his horse racing business and legislative expertise. A Reuters contributor, he has also previously served as editor for Government Security News. Steve lives with his wife and son, and is an avid poker player, having learned from his uncle as a wholesome after-school pasttime with cookies and milk. Email: stevebittenbender@casino.org

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  • I am an enrolled member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and currently live in Illinois with hopes of moving back to help my siblings as we are all getting older. My siblings have been taught to work hard and make their own way thanks to our mom who never had the benefit of social programs. Unlike now, we had no College option, join the Military or start a family. My mom took her eight children off the “reservation” to try and make a better life. She waitressed and showed us a work ethic, gave us responsibilities to keep our household running while she worked at whatever job she could find. Eventually she took us back to the boundary so we could graduate from Cherokee High School. Mom has since passed but has left a legacy for her family in that we still want to work together and hang out together and build each other up. My older sisters currently run their own businesses on the boundary and still struggle with making ends meet due helping other family members make their ends meet. They continue to make the most amazing pottery, beadwork and baskets. My brother still runs our small family campground and breaks even generally. Again, it is not making him rich, he has just got use to maintaining it. (If he is lucky he may catch the overflow from the Yogi Bear Campground down the road).
    He spend his Per Cap Money repairing buildings and old pipes at the Campground. My point is that theirs are some of the better circumstances there on the boundary, but from looking in on the other side, they are barely above the national poverty level. This money could have potentially put them in a more even playing field.

    Contrary to popular belief, those Big Per Capital checks didn’t make anyone rich. I’m thankful for them though, they have supplemented people’s income and have helped pay my taxes many a year.
    So my question was, why pay $250 Million on a long-term investment in this current environment? And possibly another $120 million from Endowment funds? With a 25% return rate with possible caps on this revenue? We would have two out of five board members seated at are table? (Which could be overturned in future)? I read the article in One Feather Newspaper about Kituwah LLC’s mission to look into diversifying the Tribes investments as to not get caught relying on the Casinos. I’m not a lawyer but why move s so quickly based on their deadlines? I’m having flashbacks of our government passing the bill before reading it. Something about too many pages. Can we slow down here? I couldn’t help thinking back a couple of years trying to make sence of a boatload of money being invested in a Data Center. I still can’t figure out what happened to that investment! Anyone?
    Can we acknowledge that we are in a different place than a year ago? People need help now.

    This money could have made a difference now and for many generations to come... and yes, you would have the people who will use their money unwisely, human nature right. Again, we are living in unprecedented times. I just want to tell you about my older sister who has served her community, her country, and several terms in Tribal Council. She has benefited from available programs for enrolled members but even that has limitations (one-time help programs, long waiting lists).
    I have watched her struggle to help her family, make repairs on her own aging home, try to keep her small business stocked with inventory. She is currently trying to rehab a place for her sisters to have a meeting place and do art classes but can’t afford a new roof or take care of ongoing mold issues. She calls this place the Common House. Boy, if they could have used that Indiana Casino investment money to help people like her right.

    I am proud of the tribe taking for taking care of their members and prioritizing healthcare, education, and all the many necessary programs before giving to the enrolled members. When my mom was alive she was so proud of how the tribe took care of her, she would say “boyyyy, they sure take good care of us, they get us the best heart doctors in the country”. She couldn’t get over it and I’ve always loved how the tribe honors its elders. Honor them now.
    EBCI leaders, if it’s not too late, please reconsider this money would be better served in this time and place to help your people pay off cars, credit cards,needed home repairs, and general cost of living. But mostly this would give our families a little piece of mind while stimulating the economy and small business on the boundary and benefiting businesses outside the boundary as well. EBCI leaders, Again, if it’s not too late, do we really need to invest that kind of money on a gamble for the future... or help your people now!

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Steve Bittenbender