he Catawba Indian Nation broke ground Wednesday on its $273 million casino and resort project in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.
The groundbreaking came after the tribe won federal approval for the land, and faced a lawsuit against the project by The Eastern Band of Cherokees who operate their own casinos in western North Carolina. Also, the project still needs approval from the governor for a compact to allow class III gaming.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are seeking to stop the project based on claims that the Catawbas, who are based in Rock Hill, would be infringing on their land. The case is pending in federal court. However, the Cherokees sought a preliminary injunction to halt the project and were denied, thus paving the way for Wednesday’s ceremony, as reported by the Charlotte Business Journal.
Catawba Indian Nation Chief Bill Harris said Wednesday that the March decision by the U.S. Department of Interior to have the land for the project put in a trust for the Catawbas is all the vindication the tribe needed to begin on the project. Tribal Administrator Elizabeth Harris said the tribe does not expect the Cherokees’ suit to be an issue moving forward.
As for the timeline for the project, the Catawbas have said they plan to open the casino in late spring or early summer of 2021, less than a year from now. Brian Hansberry, president of gaming for Delaware North, the casino operator working with the Catawbas on the project, told CBJ that the plan is to have a temporary, smaller development open first. That is set to occur in late spring or early summer of 2021 and will include around 1,300 slot machines as well as some restaurants and outlets, he said. After that opening, the plan will be to develop a larger next phase to get closer to full buildout. He estimated that will take place around 18 months after the first piece opens next year.
Department of the Interior documents show the project calling for a 195,000-square-foot casino and resort. It would include 75,128 square feet for gaming, with 54 table games and 1,800 electronic gaming machines. It would also house a 940-seat restaurant, a hotel and retail space upon completion. "Eventually we'll work to another phase where we will have the other amenities that you will expect to come to an entertainment venue,” Hansberry said. The tribe’s application for the project estimated it would result in 2,600 direct jobs and an annual economic impact of $208 million.
In addition, the Charlotte Business Journal reported Tuesday the Catawbas and Delaware North still needed approval from Gov. Roy Cooper for a compact to allow class III gaming — which includes high-stake slot machines and table games — at the new development. As of now, the casino could only practice class II gaming, which includes bingo and non-banked card games, according to the American Gaming Association.
Wally Fayssoux, a lawyer representing the tribe from Greenville, South Carolina-based law firm Fayssoux & Landis, said he was optimistic that Cooper would give the approval needed and he anticipates those negotiations will begin soon.