Gambling appears to be headed for Cleveland County after federal officials approved the Catawba Indian Nation’s proposal for a casino near Kings Mountain. The York County, S.C.-based tribe, which has only 253 members in North Carolina, started promoting the project about seven years ago on a site adjacent to Interstate 85. Unlike the Palmetto State, North Carolina permits gaming. A study suggests a $273 million casino would create as many as 4,000 jobs, $5 million in annual local tax impact and $208 million in direct spending. Delaware North, a family-owned, Buffalo, N.Y.-based company that operates 13 casinos, is slated to operate the business for the Catawbas.
The Interior Department approval came despite opposition from N.C. politicians including former Gov. Pat McCrory, Gov. Roy Cooper and N.C. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger; the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians; and Cleveland County churches, which had organized opposition over the years to oust local politicians who favored the casino. Cooper still has authority to rule on the project.
The Cherokees, who operate the state’s sole casinos in far western Cherokee and Murphy, have lobbied hard against the Catawba site, which is 33 miles east of Charlotte, the state’s biggest metro area. They’ve spent years building credibility with N.C. lawmakers, while creating a huge enterprise that kicks off about $12,000 annually for each member. The Cherokees contend that the site is on their aboriginal land.
But Kings Mountain leaders, including longtime Mayor Scott Neisler, promoted gaming as a strong economic boon for Cleveland County. They won the support of U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis and forged a tie with the Lumbee Nation, the Native American tribe centered in Robeson County that is working hard to secure federal recognition.