After a lengthy debate between Governor Beverly Perdue and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, a new 30-year gaming compact has been developed and was signed by the Governor and Principal Chief Michell Hicks on Monday in Raleigh. The new agreement will bring vegasstyle gambling to the Cherokee Reservation, which is anticipated to inject additional funding directly into classrooms, and create 400 new jobs in western North Carolina by expanding the Cherokee’s gaming enterprises.
“My top priorities are strengthening our schools and creating jobs, and this agreement does both,” Gov. Perdue said. “This will mean additional dollars going directly to school districts, and it will provide an economic boost for western North Carolina. I urge the General Assembly to act so that we can quickly start receiving the benefits of this expansion.”
The 30-year compact, which will allow the Cherokee to offer live table gaming at Cherokee’s Harrah’s Casino, and provide the state with a share of the revenue generated from the new games, was originally set to be voted on in September, but due to the Tribe and Gov. Perdue being unable to reach an agreement on the amount of revenue to be given to the state, the vote was delayed. The final compact calls for the state’s share of the revenue to be channeled directly to school districts. The school districts will be required to spend the funds on educating students in the classroom.
Perdue administration officials and Cherokee leaders spent years negotiating the compact and worked out a variety of complicated issues. Among the more important components of the agreement, the state will grant the Cherokee exclusive live table gaming rights west of Interstate 26. In exchange, the Cherokee will pay the state:
• 4 percent of gross receipts from live table gaming during the first five years;
• 5 percent the next five years;
• 6 percent the next five years;
• 7 percent the next five years; and
• 8 percent during the next ten years.
Gov. Perdue and Chief Hicks finalized the agreement Monday morning. Once the General Assembly acts, the agreement will be sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior for approval.
“Today represents the culmination of months of hard work by the Governor’s office and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” said Principal Chief Michell Hicks, who was recently elected to his third term in office. “This agreement will provide substantial economic benefit to tribal members and people throughout western North Carolina. This agreement further demonstrates the Cherokees’ commitment to educating our young people through the education funding initiative. We value our partnership with the state and are grateful to the Governor for her help and to the leadership in the General Assembly for their continued support.”
Congressman Heath Shuler noted the importance of the economic boost the casino’s expansion can bring to the area, as well as commended the three year-long process it took to create an agreement which should benefit all parties involved. “I woud like to commend Governnor Perdue, Chief Hicks, and the Tribal Council for working together to reach this agreement,” said Shuler.
The North Carolina School Board Association (NCSBA) applauded efforts to direct more funding to help strengthen our schools. “On behalf of the more than 1.4 million students that are served through our education system, school boards are grateful for the additional resources these funds will provide to strengthen the opportunities our students will receive in the classroom,” said Chuck Francis, President of NCSBA.
Kit Cramer, the President and CEO of the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce, also praised the agreement, saying that it “adds 400 jobs without paying incentives and creates good synergy for travel and tourism in the Asheville area.”
Administration officials urged the General Assembly to pass the needed conforming technical modifications as soon as possible, as the finalized deal was sent to lawmakers, who were scheduled to meet in Raleigh earlier this week.
The General Assembly decided not to vote on the agreement during their special session. Members of the republican party felt they needed more time to review the lenghty agreement in order to make a more informed decsion.
“They have been working on it for three years but we still hadn't seen the agreement,” said Senator Jim Davis. “Some of the research staff wanted to look at it because they had some questions about the legality and constitutionality of how the education monies are going to be distributed.”
Although The President Pro tempore in the State Senate, Phil Berger (R-Guilford, Rockingham) originally reported that he believed an expansion of the casino would be have no problem passing in the Senate, Republican leaders at the Legislature may now consider delaying their actions, since they originally planned to vote on a compact in September.
There is also a debate between lawmakers on how the monies should be distributed to the state schools. Gov. Perdue has established the agreement to be designed to distribute the state's portions of the revenue to school districts based on student population. Several members of the GOP are questioning the legality of the distributions and would prefer to see the monies not have any restrictions beyond going to education.
Sen. Davis believes that after reviewing the agreement in full, the compact will be approved by the General Assemby. “I anticipate that it will be approved,”said Davis. “but we didn’t sign it Monday afternoon, because we need more time to look over it.”
Several groups and organizations have spoken out in opposition to the possible expansion and implementation of “Vegas style” gambling. The North Carolina Family Policy Council, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization aimed toward providing research and education on public policy issues that affect the family, have been diligently lobbying against a ratified amendment to the gambling compact.
Bill Brooks, president and executive director of the Family Policy Council, said that the organization isn’t solely against the expansion of the Cherokee Casino, but instead, “we are opposed to gambling expansion in general.”
According to Brooks, The Family Policy Council feared that if North Carolina approves live gambling for the Tribe, it will be in direct conflict with state gambling laws, which will ultimately allow gambling to spread throughout the entire state. Brooks explained that the Cherokee Indian Reservation first introduced gambling with bingo games. Because the Cherokee Reservation is considered its own sovereign nation, it is not subject to state laws, but instead follows federal mandates. “They want to do a type of gambling beyond what the state law allows because the bottom line is, live tables are illegal,” said Brooks. According to Brooks, if the state does grant the Tribe the privilege of expanding, it will trigger a devastating domino effect for the surrounding areas.
Brooks stated that a special clause in the U.S. Constitution states that the federal government cannot permit someone to do something that is prohibited to everyone else. According to Brooks, if the Tribe is allowed “Vegas style” gambling it is likely that another Casino, possibly even the Harrah’s corporation could, “bring a law suit in N.C. court that argues the state doesn’t have the right to approve the Tribe’s request.”
As a result, the court would likely rule to open gambling in all of N.C. “There are a handful of legislators that would like to see that happen,” noted Brooks.
In the compact signed on Monday, Gov. Perdue specially noted that the gambling rights would be exclusively to land owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which would allow more casinos to be built on the reservation, but prevent live gambling from spreading throughout the state.
Larry Blythe, Vice-Chief for the Tribe, explained that because of the special regulations of the reservation, a statewide approval of live gambling would ultimately be up to the governor’s office and should have no effect on the Tribe’s gaming compact negotiations. “What we are allowed is based on federal laws because we are on federal land — it should have an impact on the rest of the state.”
Rep. Berger believes that any relevant negative impacts would already be apparent, if they were going to exist at all.
“From what I’ve seen, there has been very positive revenue generation, that has been put to good use,” Berger noted, “and employment has been brought to a part of the state that, for years, has dealt with hardships.”
According to Sen. Davis, Gov. Perdue has the ability to call another special session to vote on the gaming compact whenever she believes that state lawmakers have had adaquete time to review the agreement. The final vote in the General Assembly will ultimately decide the fate of live gambling at the casino.