Federal Judge Rules Catawba Tribe Can Proceed with NC Casino

Federal Judge Rules Catawba Tribe Can Proceed with NC Casino
By Ron Fritz

A federal judge has denied a legal challenge by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians over a casino in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, ruling that the Catawba Indian Nation had the right to build the facility on the land.

The Cherokees, which operate two casinos in western North Carolina and recently launched sports betting at the sites, had been contesting the South Carolina-based tribe’s plans for a third gambling operation in North Carolina.

The Catawbas have broken ground on a Vegas-style gaming facility about 35 miles west of Charlotte. On March 26, the compact between the Catawba Indian Nation and North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper that was reached in January was approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. It allows for Class III gaming.

The “Two Kings Casino Resort in Kings Mountain,” will be an approximately $300 million, 60,000-square-foot facility. Class III gaming includes slot machines and table games.

The Catawbas plan to open an “introductory facility” in the fall with at least 1,300 slot machines.

The Cherokees have argued that the land for the Catawba casino was historically theirs and that the Catawbas and Interior Department had violated federal law, according to the Associated Press. But U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg, in a 55-page opinion posted Friday wrote: “In the end, though, they come up with snake eyes, as on each claim they either lack standing or lose on the merits.”

Catawbas Noted NC Ties

The Catawba tribe said it had a right to the land for the casino after It received federal recognition in a 1993 agreement, AP reported. The tribe also noted that it long had historical and ancestral ties to land in North Carolina.

Catawba Indian Nation Chief Bill Harris praised the judge’s decision, according to AP, saying he hoped the Cherokees would not file a “frivolous appeal and that our two tribes can now work together for the betterment of our people.”

“This decision reaffirms the clear historical record of the Catawba’s ancestral lands and cultural ties in North Carolina and the rigorous process of review undertaken by the U.S. Department of the Interior in taking the land into trust,” Harris said in a news release.

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said in a statement that “our team is going through the ruling now and examining all options for next steps. It remains clear to us that the law was broken and we will not stop until justice is served in this case.”

The lawsuit, filed last summer, was the latest dispute in a years-long disagreement over casinos between the tribes.

Sports Betting Launches in North Carolina

The sports betting bill was passed on July 16, 2019, by the North Carolina General Assembly and Cooper signed it into law later that month, making in-person wagering legal at the two Cherokee casinos. The law limits sports wagering to the tribal casinos only.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the compact between the state and the Cherokee tribe in early March. Cooper and the tribe had reached agreement on an amended compact in early December.

”The Book” sportsbooks at the Harrah’s Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy held a grand opening ceremony March 18 and started taking bets before the first games of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament that day.

A partnership between the tribe, Caesars Entertainment and William Hill resulted in the opening of “The Book” sportsbooks

On April 7, a bill was introduced in the North Carolina Senate calling for 10 to 12 mobile licenses to be issued as well as online licenses for tribal casinos in the western part of the state. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Republican Sen. Jim Perry and Democratic Sen. Paul A. Lowe Jr., could be enacted in North Carolina as soon as Oct. 1.



Ron Fritz is a former editor for TopUSCasinos.com.

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