North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue has officially signed a 30-year agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to allow live dealers at the Harrah's Cherokee Casino minutes after the N.C. Senate approved the legislation in a 68-49 vote.
With both the N.C. House of Representatives and the N.C. Senate voting to approve the compact, the last hurdle will be for the agreement to be approved by the U.S. Department of the Interior before live games can be implemented. Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Michell Hicks said he hopes that the U.S. Department of the Interior will approve the compact within the next four weeks to allow for the first wave of live tables to be operational by August 1. Originally the tribe had hoped to have the go ahead by the July 4 holiday weekend, but the last hurdle will take a little longer than expected.
The U.S. Department of the Interior places a high priority on respecting the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes. When legislation directly affects Native Americans the U.S. Department of Interior must review it and give the final approval.
The compact will allow the Harrah’s Casino to offer Vegasstyle live table gaming and give the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to build two more casinos on the Reservation. The addition of the live dealers is expected to add 400 jobs to the casino right away and will substantially increase the casino’s revenue. “Right off the bat the expansion is going to create 400 jobs, and that doesn't even include the private jobs that will be created through the construction and other jobs,” said Sen. Jim Davis (R-50).
“The Cherokee have been good stewards of the money from their gaming enterprises, investing it in the lives of their people and the people of Western North Carolina,” said Gov. Perdue. “They will continue to help their tribe and their neighbors with this new revenue.”
Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel, a 56-acre property, is an enterprise of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation. Currently the casino and hotel is expanding and is the largest hospitality development project under way in the Southeast. In addition to the 56-acre property, guests have privileged access to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation-owned Sequoyah National Golf Club, named one of Golf Magazine's best new golf courses.
“The biggest economic movement Western North Carolina has had in the last quarter century has been the implementation of the Cherokee casino,” said House Representative Phil Haire (D-119). “With 1,800 employees, and a little more than 80 percent of those being individuals who do not live on the reservation, the casino has had a huge positive impact on the economy of this region.”
Previously only allowed to have video-style gaming, expansion is expected to bring new table game offerings including blackjack, mini-baccarat, roulette and craps. A new poker room will be located in the second floor corridor above the grand rotunda. The $650 million expansion project is one of the largest in the U.S. offering the greatest number of hotel accommodations in the Carolinas.
“We are excited to provide broader choices for our guests to enjoy. The introduction of table games, coupled with the completion of our $650 million dollar expansion to be completed this year, will position Harrah's Cherokee Casino & Hotel as the premier gaming destination in the Southeast, a world-class resort, entertainment and tourism destination,” said Senior Vice President and General Manager Brooks Robinson.
The legislation not only provides for live dealers, it allows two new casinos to be built on tribal lands which is anticipated to add hundreds of millions in revenues to the Western North Carolina economy. “I think the new gaming compact will have a significant impact on the economy of Western North Carolina,” said House Representative Roger West (R-120). “I am confident that the casino's expansion will bring a diverse group of people to the area. By being a Class 3 casino to add to the world class facility they already have with the resort, I am sure great things are going to come.”
“My top priorities are strengthening our schools and creating jobs, and this agreement does both,” Gov. Perdue previously said of the compact. “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.”
In exchange, the state will receive a percentage of the revenue from the new games, estimated at $2 million to $3 million a year, which will be put back into the state's public education fund. “The money generated from the casino will be allocated fairly through the state depending on the average daily memberships (ADM) of each district,” said West. “The money will be going directly into the classroom, it may not be a lot at first, but with continuing tight budgets, anything will help.”
Rep. Haire noted that North Carolina is now the 10th most populous state in the nation and with the growth in population, comes a growth in public education. “With the overall population of our state projected to continue growing, the need for more facilities to accommodate the growth in the number of students in our public education system continues to grow as well,” said Haire. “Anytime you can get this kind of money going directly into our classrooms, it is going to be a good thing.”
Haire explained that the way the gaming compact is currently set up, North Carolina schools are projected to receive four percent of the revenue earned by the addition of live gaming in the first year, and that percentage is slated to increase by one percent a year until it reaches the cap of eight percent.
Senator Davis said that the casino is projected to put $1.2 million back into public education the first year, and considers that a conservative estimate.
Rep. West believes that the gaming compact will only have a positive impact on the region. “The casino already has gaming and I don't see how adding live tables could create any problems,” said West. “If there were going to be any problems, we would have already seen them.”