New federal law affirms Catawba casino in North Carolina

North Carolina

(AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. (AP) — A new federal law affirms the operation of a casino in North Carolina by the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation, ending a yearslong dispute between the tribes.

President Joe Biden signed The Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, which was included in a larger piece of legislation authorizing military spending, on Monday.

The Catawba Indian Nation will oversee the $273 million Catawba Two Kings Casino with plans for 2,600 permanent jobs and revenues for the tribe. There is already a temporary, preliminary operation up and running at the site off Interstate 85 in Kings Mountain, about 35 miles (56 kilometers) west of Charlotte.

Spurned by South Carolina in previous efforts to offer gambling other than bingo in their home state, Catawba members sought to build a casino in North Carolina, citing what they call its historical and ancestral ties to land in the state. The U.S. Interior Department agreed in early 2020 to put 17 acres in Cleveland County into trust for the project.

The new law clarifies that the tribe, which has a 700-acre (283-hectare) reservation in upstate South Carolina, is subject to tribal gambling laws and affirms the Interior Department’s actions.

Catawba Chief William Harris said the bill was “the final step in a decades-long fight” to receive federal support for the casino project, The Rock Hill Herald reported.

The passage of the bill is a setback for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which operates two casinos in far western North Carolina. The competing tribe sued the Catawba and the Interior Department in federal court last year to try to stop the Kings Mountain casino, but a federal judge sided with the Catawba.

“The courts have been reviewing the legality of the Catawba casino, but this legislation will end that process,” said Richard Sneed, the Eastern Band’s principal chief, in a statement. “We are disappointed to not be granted the ability to defend our position in the courtroom.”

Catawba officials hope the casino will help lower the tribe’s high unemployment and poverty rates.

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