Republican US Sen. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) changed his tune about a Catawba tribal casino in the Carolinas after Wallace Cheves, the casino tycoon financing the project, wooed him with campaign donations, according to a report by Yahoo News.
Graham’s colleague in Congress, US Sen. Thom Tillis (N.C.), also flip-flopped on the Catawba’s gaming ambitions after being courted by Cheves, the managing partner of Sky Boat Gaming, Yahoo News claims.
The Catawba is South Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe, which has for years sought to establish gaming operations in the pursuit of economic self-sufficiency. Controversially, it wants to build a $273 million casino across the border in North Carolina, 35 miles north of its reservation.
In March, after six years of deliberation, the Interior Department approved the tribe’s application to take the land in question into trust, paving the way for the construction of the casino.
‘Modern-Day Land Grab’
North Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, has called this a “modern-day land grab” and disputes the Catawba’s ancestral ties to the land. The Cherokee, which operates two casinos in eastern North Carolina, has launched a federal lawsuit to block the casino.
With political support from the likes of Graham, Tillis, and South Carolina Democrats, a bill has been introduced in Congress that would provide additional legal safeguards to protect the Catawba’s land north of the border.
But it was not always so. In 2003, Graham opposed the Catawba’s efforts to establish a modest bingo hall because he did not want to contribute to “the Indian gaming problem,” according to Yahoo News.
But that was before Cheves maxed out on Graham’s failed presidential bid. A year later, he began donating to his Senate reelection campaign, even though the election was three years away.
Records show the Catawba tribe’s lobbying firm contributed to Graham’s campaign shortly after the Senator had called then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. The tribe then submitted its second land-into-trust application to the Interior Department.
$82,000 for Tillis
Meanwhile, in 2013, a year after he had received $4,000 from the Cherokee, Tillis was a signatory to a letter authored by a bipartisan group resisting a Catawba casino. But between 2015 and 2019, he took in more than $82,000 from Cheves and individuals connected to Sky Boat.
Tillis co-sponsored the federal bill supporting the Catawba cause despite opposition from 38 of 50 North Carolina senators, including the Senate’s Republican president.
This is not the first time Graham has put his weight behind controversial legislation related to gaming. He began pushing the Restoration of America’s Wire Act shortly after LVS CEO and chairman Sheldon Adelson gave $15,600 to Graham’s campaign in 2013. He also hosted a fund-raiser for Graham in Las Vegas in April 2014. The Restoration of America’s Wire aimed to ban all online gaming in the US.
Banning online gaming has been a longtime pet project of Adelson. But the legislation was unpopular with others in the GOP for its trammeling of states’ rights.