On temporary H2B visas

North Carolina: Cherokees debate housing plan to bring foreign casino workers amid labor shortage

Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino, North Carolina.
Reading time 2:13 min

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is considering dormitory-style employee housing in an effort to bring in foreign workers on temporary H2B visas. The plan comes as labor shortage at Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy, North Carolina, continues to worsen, reports Smoky Mountain News.

“We have to do what’s necessary to support the one enterprise that’s paying all the bills for everything,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed told Tribal Council last week, according to the cited source, asking for approval to purchase the property proposed as the project site. 

However, Sneed’s proposal received mixed support from Tribal Council, leading the Principal Chief to withdraw the legislation to renegotiate with property owner and enrolled member Morgan Owle Crisp. Sneed further told Council it’s “imperative” the tribe does something to address the casino’s labor shortage.

Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed

The 9.5-acre property is described as a “relatively level grassy field” bordered by Don Lambert Road to the east and Casino Trail to the south, according to a geotechnical report presented by the Principal Chief. While the parcel appraised for $2.6 million in 2021, Crisp is willing to sell for $2.5 million.

“Competition is now here. It’s in Charlotte,” Sneed told Council, according to Smoky Mountain News, in reference to the opening last year of Catawba Indian Nation’s Catawba Two Kings Casino. “We can either invest in the enterprise that’s paying all the bills to give it the support it needs, or don’t. But know that there will be consequences for not doing so.” 

Catawba Indian Nation’s rights to operate a casino in North Carolina were reaffirmed earlier this year by a new federal law, signed by President Joe Biden. The Catawbas opened the Catawba Two Kings casino in Kings Mountain, Cleveland County, in a temporary facility in July last year, while awaiting this approval.

Rendering for the permanent Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort

The preliminary operation is already up and running at the site off Interstate 85, as construction of the permanent venue is ongoing. The Cherokees had challenged the Catawba’s claim on the land where the Two Kings Casino sits by filing lawsuits which kept the development in jeopardy, as they argued the land was actually their ancestral land.

In addition to competence from Catawba’s temporary facility, which launched with 500 gaming machines but quickly expanded to 1000 due to initial success, the Cherokees now also face the pressing issue of filing an increasing number of open positions.

Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel

During the pre-pandemic summer of 2019, Harrah's Cherokee Hotel and Casino had about 200 open positions, while Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel had between 60 to 70. By July 2021, numbers had doubled for existing operations, while additional 200 positions related to an upcoming expansion brought the total number of vacancies to 600.

The tribe announced an expansion for Harrah's Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy in November last year, only half a year after a $330 million expansion in its Harrah's Cherokee Casino Resort. The Valley River Casino revamp is set to cost about $275 million, although no specifics were given at the time in regards to exactly what the new construction will include.