Bipartisan Federal Bill to Protect Catawba Indian Land in North Carolina Introduced

Posted on: September 21, 2020, 10:11h. 

Last updated on: September 21, 2020, 11:14h.

The Catawba Indian Nation, the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina, is moving forward with its $273 million casino resort in Kings Mountain, North Carolina. A new federal bill has been introduced in DC that seeks to provide the tribe with additional legal safeguards to make sure its progress isn’t impeded by further courtroom challenges.

Catawba Nation North Carolina casino
Catawba Nation Chief Bill Harris is hopeful Congress will support legislation that reaffirms the Interior Department’s decision to take its tribal land in North Carolina into trust. (Image: Catawba Nation)

HR 8255 — the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act — seeks to reaffirm the US Department of the Interior’s (DOI) decision in March to take roughly 17 acres of land in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, into federal trust. Introduced by Rep. GK Butterfield (D-North Carolina) and cosponsored by four Democrats and three Republicans, the legislation would lend Congress’ backing to the tribe’s casino ambitions.

The newly introduced legislation demonstrates the ongoing support from members of Congress in righting historical wrongs against the Catawba people,” said Catawba Nation Chief Bill Harris.

“We are pleased that this legislation will reaffirm the Interior Department’s action recognizing the Catawba Nation’s historical and ancestral ties to the lands in Kings Mountain, North Carolina,” Harris continued. “These are the lands of not just our ancestors, but also the hundreds of Catawba citizens that reside there today.”

Tribal War

Late last month, the Catawba Nation announced that its casino project, located some 30 minutes west of Charlotte, will be named Two Kings Casino Resort. The complex is estimated to generate $300 million annually in economic activity and employ 4,000 people upon completion. The tribe says Two Kings could open late next year.

However, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) has opposed the DOI’s decision to take the Catawba land in North Carolina into federal trust. The Catawbas have historically been reserved to South Carolina, and the Palmetto State prohibits commercial gambling. South Carolina has refused to enter into a gaming compact with the Catawbas to allow them to operate Class III gaming (slot machines and table games).

The Cherokees argue the Catawbas’ partnership with Wallace Cheves, a real estate developer, has paved the way for the tribe to influence officials in DC. Cheves has been a major contributor to President Donald Trump and Republican politicians, and most recently gave $125,000 to the President’s reelection campaign.

The EBCI allege that Cheves’ influence in DC fast-tracked the DOI into approving the Catawba land into trust, despite the federal agency not conducting a customary environmental impact review.

The Cherokees continue to contest the DOI’s actions in federal court. The EBCI owns two casinos in North Carolina — Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel. Both properties, operated by Caesars Entertainment, are in the southwestern part of the state.

Congressional Support

The Catawba Nation says HR 8255 would reaffirm the DOI’s determination that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) applies to its land in North Carolina.

This provision is critical to ensuring the Catawba Nation’s gaming will be subject to an agreement that provides North Carolina with a role in the regulation of the facility,” a tribal statement explained.

North Carolina’s Class III gaming compact with the EBCI allows the tribe to operate slot machines and table games at its two casinos. The Cherokees only share a percentage of its table games revenue with the state.

Table games at the Harrah’s North Carolina casinos share five percent of their win with the state through 2021. That rate increases to six percent for 2022-2026, to seven percent in 2027-2031, and to eight percent for 2032-2042.