RALEIGH, N.C. -- Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday he has strong concerns about a Native American tribe’s plans to build a gambling casino on land along Interstate 85 near Kings Mountain, about 30 miles west of Charlotte.
The South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation applied this week to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs to put 16 acres into trust for the tribe – the first step in a long process to build a casino just across the border from South Carolina. The 2,800-member tribe already has land in trust in York County.
The tribe said the casino and entertainment complex would create more than 4,000 jobs – a boon to the struggling economy in Cleveland County, where Kings Mountain is located.
County and local officials have praised the project. But many state lawmakers oppose it, even though the Eastern Band of Cherokees already operates a bustling casino in the western part of North Carolina.
McCrory attended Friday’s annual meeting of the N.C. Commission of Indian Affairs but didn’t talk about the casino. The Catawba tribe is not among the eight tribes formally recognized by North Carolina, but it has applied for recognition with the commission.
Responding to one reporter’s question after the meeting about what he thinks of the proposed casino, McCrory said, “I’ve seen no argument to justify it whatsoever.”
He left through a door to the hotel parking lot without taking more questions.
Telephone messages left for Catawba Chief Bill Harris were not returned Friday.
To operate a casino in North Carolina, a tribe must clear four hurdles, said Greg Richardson, the commission’s executive director.
It has to be federally recognized – the Catawbas are – and have land in trust with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Catawbas have such land in South Carolina, but not in North Carolina.
A tribe also has to have a compact with the state to go into the casino gambling industry, a process the Cherokees went through years ago. The fourth step is the tribe has to have the consent of the General Assembly. That’s going to be difficult for the Catawbas in North Carolina. The project faces stiff opposition from state lawmakers.
One concern is that the Catawbas, unlike the Cherokees, are based outside North Carolina. State House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam, R-Wake, said he’s concerned that if the Catawbas were allowed to open a casino in North Carolina, that could pave the way for other tribes to do so.
Stam is among more than 100 state House members who recently signed a letter opposing any attempt by a federally recognized tribe from outside North Carolina to build a casino in the state.
The Catawba tribe has spent much of the past 20 years trying to get some form of gambling, but has failed at almost every turn.
The tribe in 1993 signed an agreement with the state and federal governments in which it agreed to drop a lawsuit claiming that broken treaties dating back to Andrew Jackson’s presidency in the early 19th century meant they should get hundreds of square miles of land. In exchange, the tribe was given its current reservation in South Carolina, and permission to open two bingo halls as well as any additional gambling allowed by the state.
The tribe opened a bingo hall in Rock Hill, but competition from the state lottery eventually overtook it.
In recent years, the Catawbas have turned their attention to building a casino, saying that because South Carolina law allows gambling cruises in international waters, gambling should be legal within the tribe’s sovereign borders. Their first choice was land in York County near their reservation, but local officials and the state refused to back the tribe’s plans. The Catawbas sued, but a judge threw the lawsuit out. The tribe is appealing that decision.