North Carolina, Catawba tribe, ink on line casino income settlement

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina’s governor has signed a revenue-sharing agreement with the Catawba Indian Nation that clears the way for Las Vegas-style gaming to be offered at a planned resort in Kings Mountain, officials said.

Federal approval is still needed for the type of gaming agreed to by Gov. Roy Cooper, but the agreement means construction on the site can start, according to the Catawba tribe, which is based in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

North Carolina currently has two casinos, both operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, in the southwestern corner of the state.

The Catawba tribe’s planned $273 million Two Kings Casino Resort would be located about a half hour west of Charlotte.

The Catawba Nation held a groundbreaking for the casino in July and has already done site work needed for construction to start.

The Eastern Band of the Cherokees sued the Catawbas and the Interior Department in federal court last year to try to stop the new casino. The suit, which is still pending, claims political pressure from South Carolina developer Wallace Cheves prompted the government to clear the way for the casino without congressional approval.

In addition to the casino, Cheves is planning to build nearly 600 homes and luxury apartments opposite the casino on the other side of Interstate 85.

The Catawbas have said they have a right to the land for the casino based on a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition. But the Cherokees have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab.”

Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band called Cooper’s signing of the agreement with the Catawbas “disappointing,” The Charlotte Observer reported.

“But this compact changes nothing,” Sneed said in a prepared statement. “We continue to believe the courts will affirm the illegality of this casino and when that happens, the Catawba agreement will be nothing more than a worthless piece of paper.”

In a Catawba Nation news release, Chief Bill Harris called the agreement the key step in bringing economic benefits and thousands of jobs to North Carolina.

Cooper spokesman Ford Porter confirmed on Saturday that the agreement had been signed and sent to the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Tribal leaders don’t foresee any special difficulties obtaining federal approval because the agreement with the Cooper administration is “closely modeled after a compact that Interior has approved for another Tribal Nation,” Catawba Nation Tribal Administrator Elizabeth Harris told the newspaper in an email Saturday. The agreement calls for payment terms to the state that are similar to North Carolina’s compact with the Cherokee casinos, Harris added.

Harris said the tribe is working with banks and investment firms to secure financing for the project.