The South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation plans to hold a “groundbreaking ceremony” today on a tract of land in North Carolina where it intends to build a 200,000-plus square foot gambling casino. The 16-acre site sits along the I-85 corridor in Kings Mountain just 35 miles west of Charlotte. Although the U.S. Department of the Interior agreed in March to take the land into trust for the purpose of allowing the Catawba tribe to establish a gambling casino, the proposal continues to face significant scrutiny and opposition, and it is far from a “done deal.”
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), which operates two casinos in the far reaches of Western North Carolina, has filed a federal lawsuit challenging multiple aspects of the Interior Department’s approval of the project. Among other things, the EBCI disputes the Catawba tribe’s historical claims to the land in North Carolina and raises allegations that the Catawba Indian Nation and controversial gambling developer Wallace Cheves wrongly influenced the Department to gain approval of the project.
NC Family has long opposed the Catawba casino project, not only because a massive gambling casino the size of a Lowes Home Improvement store would bring significant harms to individuals and families due to increases in gambling addiction and related problems, but also because it will cannibalize the local economy and plague surrounding communities. (Read NC Family’s magazine article “Going Off The Reservation,” which outlines many of these concerns in detail.)
We are also convinced that the Department’s approval of the land into trust application is illegitimate.
The Catawba Indian Nation operates under the authority of a “settlement agreement” entered into in 1993 by the tribe, the State of South Carolina, and the U.S. Congress. This settlement agreement governs many aspects of the tribe’s operations including the purchase of tribal lands and the rights of the tribe to conduct gambling operations. The settlement agreement never contemplated that the Catawba Indian Nation would seek to purchase land and establish a gambling casino outside of the confines of the State of South Carolina, and, in fact, it prohibits it. Furthermore, the settlement agreement expressly states that the tribe is not subject to the federal Indian Gambling Regulatory Act (IGRA), which is the federal law that governs almost all Class III gambling operations by Indian tribes across the United States.
But since the South Carolina legislature has blocked every effort by the tribe to establish a gambling casino in South Carolina, the Catawba Indian Nation began “reservation shopping” several years ago and looked right across the border into North Carolina to buy land to build a casino.
If the development of this casino moves forward, it would create an unprecedented situation, because a South Carolina-based Indian tribe would be operating a gambling casino in North Carolina, but the State of North Carolina would have no oversight, authority or legal ties to the land or the gambling activities whatsoever. Again, the Catawba Indian Nation operates under the authority of the settlement agreement between the tribe, the State of South Carolina, and the U.S. Congress. North Carolina is completely out of the picture. Moreover, the Catawba tribe is not subject to IGRA, meaning that the federal laws that apply to practically all other Class III Indian gambling operations across the nation would not apply to a gambling casino operated by the Catawba Indian Nation.
NC Family urges our U.S. congressional delegation, Governor Roy Cooper, State Attorney General Josh Stein, the North Carolina General Assembly, and local community leaders in and around the Kings Mountain area to oppose this harmful casino project and petition the U.S. Department of the Interior to change course before any further action is taken.