North Carolina’s Cherokee Indian Tribe Debates Casino Foreign Worker Housing
Posted on: March 10, 2022, 02:01h.
Last updated on: March 11, 2022, 09:47h.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians wants to construct a dorm to house gaming property employees from foreign nations. The tribe owns North Carolina’s Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, which faces continuing worker shortages. But a recently proposed land purchase for housing was rejected.
The Cherokee, North Carolina casino now has 789 job openings, reported the Smoky Mountain News, a local newspaper. A second Cherokee casino, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, located in nearby Murphy, has 90 open positions.
Beyond that, the tribe has 135 other open positions. The Cherokee Indian Hospital Authority wants to fill 75 jobs. Some other jobs are frozen, the newspaper said.
Recruiting Foreign Workers
Apparently unable to fill the vacancies with local workers, the tribe is turning to recruit staff from foreign nations. The employees would be let into the US on temporary H2B visas, the newspaper said. The visas allow foreign workers to take seasonal nonagricultural jobs in certain fields, such as the hospitality sector.
To construct a dorm, the tribe was looking to buy a 9.5-acre grassy parcel of land in Cherokee. It is less than a mile from the casino.
The property was appraised for $2.6 million last year. The current owner would sell it for $2.5 million, the Smoky Mountain News said.
But last week, tribal council members criticized the proposed purchase price, and are concerned about its soil quality. Tribal officials will renegotiate with the property owner.
Tribal Members Reject Land Purchase
During last week’s tribal council meeting, Yellowhill Tribal Rep. T. W. Price Saunooke, who has extensive construction industry experience, warned, “There’s no way that we should be putting a multi-story facility on top of that [land] without excavating it out and taking out the trash dirt.”
That may cost about $750,000, Saunooke said. Also, three acres in the parcel cannot be built on, Saunooke said. For instance, 1.07 acres is a state road. Two acres are in a floodway, Saunooke said.
“The price has got to come way down to make it economical for us to even be able to move forward with it,” Saunooke told tribal council leadership.
But new employee housing is necessary to properly staff the gaming property, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the tribal council. With a new addition, the Cherokee casino now has four hotel towers with 1,833 rooms. It also has a new 83,000-square-foot convention center.
“We have to do what’s necessary to support the one enterprise that’s paying all the bills for everything,” Sneed told the tribal council last week. He also warned council members that last year the Catawba Two Kings Casino, owned by the Catawba Indian Nation, opened near Charlotte, N.C. It is seen as a competitor.
Tribe Should Prioritize Housing for Tribal Members
The proposed employee housing concerned Tribal Council Big Cove Rep. Teresa McCoy, given that tribal members are themselves waiting for housing, the Smoky Mountain News reported.
She also alleged that Sneed’s proposal is a move to benefit him and his friends, a charge that Sneed disputed.
This is not an either-or proposition,” Sneed told the meeting, the newspaper said. “We must do both. If we choose not to, there will be consequences for choosing not to — that’s all I’m saying. So it’s a business decision.”
Already, the tribe chose not to construct a proposed water park because of worker shortages. They would have needed 250 employees to properly staff the complex.
Senators Want More H-2B Seasonal Workers
Nationally, a group of bipartisan US Senators last month called on the US government to increase the number of H-2B seasonal worker visas.
There is an initial limit of 66,000 visas a year, but that can be increased under the direction of the Department of Labor and Department of Homeland Security.
Federal officials said earlier this year they will add 20,000 additional H-2B visas. But the Senators want to add 44,716 H-2B visas this year, Fox News reported.
Many US gaming properties apparently face a worker shortage, as casinos resumed operations following COVID-19 closings.
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