Feds Approve Compact for Vexed Catawba North Carolina Casino Project

Posted on: March 26, 2021, 07:04h. 

Last updated on: March 26, 2021, 12:24h.

The US Interior Department has signed off on a revenue-sharing compact between North Carolina and the Catawba Indian Nation, the tribe announced in a statement Thursday.

Catawba
Kings Mountain casino backer Wallace Cheves discusses the project during a public consultation in January. The tribe announced a new agreement on Thursday. (Image: Melissa Key/CBJ)

The federal seal of approval greases the skids on a controversial $273 million resort near the state’s southern border.

It’s controversial because the Catawba claim ancestral ties to the land around Kings Mountain, where the casino will be built. Meanwhile, their sovereign reservation is located in South Carolina, where there are no casinos.

Moreover, North Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, disputes the Catawbas’ claim to the lands. The Cherokee argue the federal government has no right to create a new Catawba reservation across state lines “on historical Cherokee territory” just to build a casino.

This approval stems from the DOI’s original illegal act to take land into trust and force an unwanted casino on North Carolina, a decision that we continue to challenge in federal court,” said Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee.

“We believe the facts are clear and that the court will invalidate this illegal casino, and along with it, this compact,” Sneed added.

‘Land Grab’ Claim

Usually, under federal law, sovereign tribes can establish electronic bingo operations (class II gaming) on their reservations without permission from the state. But the federal bill that recognized Catawba sovereignty – the Catawba Land Settlement Act of 1993 – stipulated that the tribe must specifically abide by South Carolina law.

The only form of gaming permissible in South Carolina is the lottery, which somewhat limits the Catawbas’ ambitions.

Meanwhile, north of the border, Class II gaming has been a success story for the Cherokee, who run the only two casinos in the state with the help of Caesars Entertainment.

They want to keep it that way. The Cherokee have called the Catawba plans a “modern-day land grab,” and have sued the tribe and the DOI in a federal court in a bid to torpedo the project.

Political Influence

The lawsuit, which is pending, claims the King’s Mountain casino has been fast-tracked because of the political influence of one of its major financial backers.

Republican megadonor Wallace Cheves has contributed handsomely to the campaigns of US Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) and others who have supported legislation to safeguard Catawba lands in North Carolina.

A video poker tycoon, Cheves was once the subject of a federal indictment for illegal gambling in Ohio, although the charges were later dropped. In 2014, his operations were the target of raids by authorities in Alabama.

Video gaming terminals fall into a gray area of the law in many states, and Cheves has said lawsuits are simply an occupational hazard.

He is planning to build nearly 600 homes and luxury apartments opposite the casino.