Gov. Roy Cooper and the Catawba Indian Nation signed a revenue-sharing agreement Friday that clears the way for Vegas-style gaming to be offered at a planned resort in Kings Mountain, tribal leaders and the state said Saturday.
Federal approval is still needed for the type of gaming agreed to by Cooper, but the deal with the state means construction can now start at the site, according to the Catawbas.
The Rock Hill-based tribe is now a big step closer to making good on its more than seven-year effort to open a casino in North Carolina. Besides bingo halls, North Carolina has two casinos, both operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, in Cherokee and Murphy.
In a Catawba Nation news release, Chief Bill Harris called the agreement “the key step in bringing economic benefits and thousands of jobs from our casino project to the citizens of North Carolina.”
The tribe would own and operate the planned $273 million Two Kings Casino Resort, about a half hour west of Charlotte. A temporary gaming facility at the site could be ready to open by the fall, Harris said, the Observer previously reported.
Developer Wallace Cheves of Greenville, S.C., is developing the casino for the tribe.
The agreement between the tribe and the state allows for Class III gaming, pending approval by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, Class III gaming includes such Vegas-style games as roulette, craps and keno; card games including blackjack, baccarat and chemin de fer; and slot machines.
Tribal leaders don’t foresee “any special difficulties” obtaining federal approval, Catawba Nation Tribal Administrator Elizabeth Harris told The Charlotte Observer in an email Saturday.
That’s because the NC agreement is “closely modeled after a compact that Interior has approved for another Tribal Nation,” she said.
The tribe, meanwhile, is permitted to proceed with Class I and Class II gaming at the Kings Mountain site, which includes bingo and other games, Harris said.
Terms of the deal
The tribe’s agreement with the state calls for payment terms to the state that are similar to North Carolina’s compact with the Cherokee casinos, Harris said:
▪ For the Catawbas’ exclusive right for live table gaming, the state will receive a revenue percentage projected to reach $5 million to $10 million a year, she said.
▪ To defray state costs for sports and horse wagering oversight, North Carolina will receive a flat fee of $191,000, according to Harris.
▪ $1 million a year will go into a foundation to benefit the Catawba, other state and federally recognized tribes, and the local community. The foundation could eventually receive $7.5 million annually, tribal leaders said.
▪ The casino is expected to generate millions of dollars in state tax revenues through taxes on vendors and employees, Harris said. And the Catawbas agreed to make payments in lieu of taxes to Cleveland County.
Harris called the agreement “the key step in bringing economic benefits and thousands of jobs from our casino project to the citizens of North Carolina.”
On Saturday afternoon, Cooper spokesman Ford Porter confirmed the agreement had been signed and sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The tribe will now begin building the first phase of the project: a preliminary casino gaming site expected to open this fall, according to Harris.
The 60,000-square-foot facility off Dixon School Road near Interstate 85 will include at least 1,300 slot machines, a restaurant and other basic amenities, Harris previously told the Observer. Eventually, the facility will be replaced by a larger casino resort.
The first phase will require an investment of between $80 million and $100 million, and would include money for road improvements to handle the added traffic, she said.
“We are working with banks and investment firms to secure financing, just like any project of this scale would,” Harris said.
An optimistic mayor
In the tribal news release, Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler is quoted as saying his city “will become a major economic engine in North Carolina.”
Neisler thanked the Catawba Nation “for extending their hand of partnership in making this dream a reality.”
On Tuesday, Kings Mountain City Council will hold the continuation of a public hearing on plans by casino developer Cheves to build nearly 600 homes and luxury apartments nearby.
Cheves has requested a rezoning through a limited liability corporation to allow for the housing on nearly 83 acres on the opposite side of I-85 from the casino.
Casino revenues also will contribute to a Catawba-backed education fund for members of federal- and state-recognized tribes, according to the tribe.
The fund also will support initiatives involving environmental conservation, economic development, public services, recreation and entertainment, Catawba leaders said.
Casino long sought
The Catawba Nation held a ground-breaking for the casino in July and has done site work needed for construction to start.
Gambling is prohibited in South Carolina, and the Catawbas looked across the border for at least seven years.
The tribe finally won federal approval in March to buy 16 acres for the project. The U.S. Interior Department put the land in trust, a designation that gave the tribe the right to develop a casino.
Last summer, the Eastern Band of the Cherokees sued the Catawbas and the Interior Department to try to stop the casino.
The suit, which is still pending, claims political pressure from Cheves prompted the government to clear the way for the casino without Congressional approval.
On Saturday night, Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band called Cooper’s signing of the agreement “disappointing.”
“The proposed Kings Mountain casino was born of an illegal act and has continued to swirl in controversy and unethical behavior,” Sneed said in a statement.
Cooper’s signing, the chief said, “furthers this scheme and threatens the integrity of Tribal gaming everywhere.
“But this compact changes nothing,” he said. “We continue to believe the courts will affirm the illegality of this casino and when that happens, the Catawba agreement will be nothing more than a worthless piece of paper.”