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Two Carolinas’ Indian Tribes Caught in Legal Dispute over Casino Establishment Attempts

Two of the most prominent American Indian tribes in the Carolinas’ are seeking supremacy in a dispute over the lucrative gambling sector in the region.

The Cherokee tribe from North Carolina, which operates two casinos in the mountains, claims that its opponents should not be given the chance to enter the northern territories. On the other hand, South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation claims that state boundaries are artificially created and should not be taken into account as an obstacle for their effort to expand their services in the industry.

Currently, the Catawba Indians have a 700-acre reservation in upstate South Carolina, but they were not permitted to build a high-stakes gambling venue in the state, despite the tribe’s Chief Bill Harris claims the federal law of 1993 was supposed to allow them to do so. According to the tribe, it is South Carolina anti-gambling campaigners who are the ones to blame.

Being unable to establish the much-desired high-stake gambling venue in South Carolina, the Catawba Indians have been hoping to be given the chance to build a casino in North Carolina, at a site which is only 35 miles away from their reservation. Moreover, the tribal nation believes it has a historical and legal claim to land there.

The ambitions of the Catawba Indian Nation has been backed by some senators from both North and South Carolina, but their support may not be enough. A bill which has been sponsored by them in Congress has faced fierce opposition in the state of North Carolina, where there already are two Indian casinos run by the local Cherokee tribe.

Catawba Indians Want the Same Prosperity as North Carolina’s Cherokee Tribe

For the time being, the Cherokee Tribe owns and operates two casinos in the far western region of North Carolina. Both operations, the first of which opened more than two decades ago, in 1997, have turned the tribe into one of the largest campaign beneficiaries of the state. On the other hand, the gambling services offered by the East Band of Cherokee Indians have been beneficial for the tribe’s members, bring each tribal member payments of about $12,000 on an annual basis.

Now, the Chief of the Catawba Indians believes that his tribe has the right to the same prosperity. According to him, a casino establishment would help the tribe keep its population and provide them with new opportunities. Reportedly, the Catawba tribe has been suffering a 28% poverty rate for families, which is nearly twice as large as the average poverty rates in South Carolina.

An application with the Interior Department was filed by the Catawba Indians six years ago, with them seeking to get permission to build a casino on a site in the Kings Mountain. The proposal was blocked by the then-Governor of North Carolina Pat McCrory, the state House Speaker Thom Tillis, and more than 100 state legislators. An interesting fact is that Thom Tillis, who is now a US senator, is one of the sponsors of the current bill. As explained by his spokesman, Senator Tillis has changed his mind about the Catawba Tribe’s request after leaders from the Kings Mountain area have expressed their support.

Cherokee Indians Say the Catawba Tribe Has No Right for Legal or Historical Claims on the Land

The new bill had its Senate Committee hearing in May this year, at which John Tahsuda from the Interior Department’s Indian Affairs division highlighted that the settlement reached between the Catawba Tribe and the Federal Government in 1993 has not been realized. However, Mr. Tahsuda did not take a formal stand on the proposed piece of legislation.

Roy Cooper, the Governor of North Carolina, has shared his concern that the proposed measure seeks to allow the Catawba Tribe to establish their casino without being necessary to negotiate some details with the state authorities, such as games that could be offered and tax revenue payments.

As mentioned above, the proposed piece of legislation has faced opposition from the East Band of Cherokee Indians, with their Principal Chief Richard Sneed claiming that the bill could have what he called a devastating impact on the region his tribe operates in. According to the Cherokee Tribe, a Catawba Indians’ casino venue could end up draining both visitors and revenues from the eastern two-thirds of North Carolina who used to prefer gambling at the two Cherokee-owned casinos.

Also, the Cherokee Tribe claims that the Catawba Nation has neither legal nor historical claims to the piece of land they want to build their North Carolina casino. Mr. Sneed has explained that under the provisions of territorial agreements between the Federal Government and the tribes a long time ago there was no Catawba-controlled piece of land on the territory of North Carolina after the mid-1700s.

However, the Catawba Tribe claims that the land subject to the dispute is within their ancient boundaries.

For the time being, the Cherokee Indians have been more successful, as they have managed to keep their opponents away from North Carolina, as the State Senate leader Phil Berger and a further 38 senators have addressed the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee, urging it to reject the proposed bill.

 Author: Harrison Young

Harrison Young is an experienced writer, who started his career almost 8 years ago. Prior to joining our team at CasinoGamesPro, he worked as an editor for a small magazine.