Vegas coming to Charlotte area: Catawbas plan casino groundbreaking for Wednesday

Vegas coming to Charlotte area: Catawbas plan casino groundbreaking for Wednesday
Catawba Indian Nation Chief Bill Harris discussed plans for a casino in Kings Mountain, N.C. during a press conference in March. The tribe has been granted federal approval to take land into trust, opening the door for them to build a casino and hotel. (Source: AMANDA HARRIS AHARRIS@HERALDONLINE.COM)

KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. (Charlotte Observer) - After years of on-again, off-again efforts, the Catawba Indians plan to break ground Wednesday on a nearly $300 million casino 35 miles from Charlotte in Kings Mountain.

A tribe official on Friday confirmed the plans that would bring Vegas-style gambling to the Charlotte area. The Catawbas plan to open the casino in late spring or early summer of next year.

“The Catawba Nation is excited to get this long awaited project moving forward,” Catawba Chief Bill Harris said Friday. “The project will have a huge impact on the Cleveland County region bringing much needed jobs as well as on the future of the Catawba Nation.”

The groundbreaking comes despite a lawsuit against the project by the Eastern Band of Cherokees, who operate their own casinos in western North Carolina.

Based in South Carolina, where gambling is prohibited, the Catawbas have looked across the border for at least seven years. The tribe finally won federal approval in March to acquire 16 acres near Interstate 85 in Cleveland County. The U.S. Interior department put the land in trust, a designation that gives it the right to develop a casino.

At the time Harris called it “a righting of a wrong.”

The proposed casino has reignited a feud between the Carolinas’ biggest tribes over centuries-old land claims and big money. At stake is a piece of the $32 billion Indian gaming industry.

The Cherokees, who have operated their own N.C. casinos since 1997, have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab.”

The Catawbas say they have a right to the land based on a provision of a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition. The agreement also gave them a “service area” in six N.C. counties, including Mecklenburg and Cleveland. Tribe members who live in those counties are eligible for the same federal benefits and services as those living on the reservation. That’s the basis for their claim to the N.C. land.

This spring, when the federal government put the land in trust, the Cherokees sued.

A federal judge rejected their request for a preliminary injunction, saying the Cherokees had not suffered “irreparable harm” by the government’s approval of the Catawba casino. In a memo explaining his order, Judge James Boasberg cited the Catawbas’ “significant economic challenges.”

The proposed casino has reignited a feud between the Carolinas’ biggest tribes over centuries-old land claims and big money. At stake is a piece of the $32 billion Indian gaming industry.

The Cherokees, who have operated their own N.C. casinos since 1997, have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab.”

The Catawbas say they have a right to the land based on a provision of a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition. The agreement also gave them a “service area” in six N.C. counties, including Mecklenburg and Cleveland. Tribe members who live in those counties are eligible for the same federal benefits and services as those living on the reservation. That’s the basis for their claim to the N.C. land.

This spring, when the federal government put the land in trust, the Cherokees sued.

A federal judge rejected their request for a preliminary injunction, saying the Cherokees had not suffered “irreparable harm” by the government’s approval of the Catawba casino. In a memo explaining his order, Judge James Boasberg cited the Catawbas’ “significant economic challenges.”

“It’s investors’ money to flush as they see fit,” Sneed said. “The facts are clear that the DOI violated federal law in their rushed, politicized decision and we are confident that the court will ultimately put an end to Wallace Cheves’ shady scheme to force this casino on North Carolina.”

Over the past 18 months, developer Wallace Cheves has given nearly $500,000 to President Trump, the Republican Party, U.S. Sens. Thom Tillis and Lindsey Graham and other GOP lawmakers, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The Eastern Band also has been a big donor. Since 2019 it has given $213,000 to national party groups, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans.