U.S. House Subcommittee Debates Catawba Casino

At U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee hearing, Catawba Indian Nation Chief William Harris (l.) declared his South Carolina-based tribe considers a 17-acre tract in Kings Mountain, North Carolina, where they're constructing a $273 million casino, to be ancestral land. Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, owners of two North Carolina casinos, said the Catawbas are building their casino there because South Carolina prohibits casino gambling.

U.S. House Subcommittee Debates Catawba Casino

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples recently met to discuss H.R. 8255, which would ratify a July 2020 decision by the federal government to give a 17-acre tract in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, North Carolina, to the Catawba Indian Nation, where land is being cleared for the $273 million Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort.

William Harris said, chief of the Catawba Indian Nation, based in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said the tribe has long claimed historical ties to the Kings Mountain area. “I want to be perfectly clear, these lands in Cleveland County are without question the ancestral lands of the Catawba Indian Nation. Our people have lived on these lands for hundreds of years. Our ancestors fought and died defending these lands. Our tribe’s ties to these lands are well documented by numerous historians and archaeologists. This is just a cynical attempt to misdirect and confuse the issues at hand before the members of congress,” Harris said.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which operates two Harrah’s Cherokee casinos in North Carolina, oppose the bill. Principal Chief Richard Sneed said the legislation would allow a specific tribe to have an off-reservation casino for the first time in U.S. history. “It would be unprecedented for Congress to authorize a tribe to cross state lines into the aboriginal territory of another tribe just to avoid the more restrictive laws of the tribe’s home state,” Sneed said. He added the bill also violates parts of the Indian Regulatory Gaming Act allowing “bad actors” into the tribal gaming industry. “If enacted, this bill would give the entire tribal gaming industry a black eye,” he said.

Sneed was referring to unnamed “gaming partners” in the project and the involvement of casino developer Wallace Cheves, who is working with the Catawbas in securing the deal. A major Republican contributor, Cheves has given nearly $500,000 to President Donald Trump and Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, whose bill, co-sponsored by North Carolina Senators Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, cleared the way for the Catawba casino. Cheves has past criminal and civil enforcement actions against him including illegal gambling, money laundering and operating illegal sweepstakes gaming in South Carolina. “A person with this illegal gaming history could not get work as a bingo caller at any tribal gaming facility in America,” Sneed said.

At the subcommittee hearing, North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker expressed concern over the casino project, such as who is actually backing the project. Neisler said, “I’m just curious why those continue to be unnamed.” He asked Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler if the mayor or any family member had any interests in the casino project. “None whatsoever,” Neisler said.

Walker also asked Sneed, “Isn’t it true that this agreement violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act and other industry standards, including the restored lands requirement?” Sneed answered those are some of the points in the lawsuit the Eastern Band has filed in federal court. “This is not a fight between tribes. We do not oppose the Catawba’s ability to game,” Sneed said. He noted his tribe’s issue is with the Interior Department’s disregard of established rules which would allow the Catawba operate in North Carolina.

North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper would have to approve a Class III compact in order for the Catawba casino to offer table games and slots. Otherwise the casino only could offer Class II gaming, including bingo and some non-banked card games.