York County leaders have mixed in views on tribe’s plans for N.C. casino

jzou@heraldonline.comAugust 17, 2013 

While local officials remain opposed to the building of a casino in South Carolina by the Catawba Indian Nation, plans for a similar gambling operation in North Carolina have elicited mixed views.

The federally recognized York County-based tribe recently consulted with North Carolina lawmakers on a potential casino along Interstate 85 in Cleveland County near Kings Mountain, N.C., according to reports this week in The Charlotte Observer and The News & Observer of Raleigh.

The tribe has tried to launch a casino in South Carolina since 2012, but faces an uphill battle from lawmakers who point to the state ban on gambling.

A pending lawsuit contesting the Catawba nation’s right to a gambling operation in the state was recently escalated to the S.C. Supreme Court, but no hearing has been set.

Gambling is permitted in North Carolina, where the Cherokee nation recently had its gambling agreement with the state renewed.

Elizabeth Harris, who heads economic development for the Catawba nation, declined to comment directly on North Carolina casino plans, but reaffirmed the tribe’s ongoing interest in bringing gaming to South Carolina.

Harris wrote in an email Friday that “any large scale economic development project would be a great benefit to the tribe and the tribal members.” She added that unemployment in the tribe is higher than it is in the rest of York County.

The tribe has continued to push for gaming, most recently announcing plans to reopen a bingo operation on Cherry Road later this year. Bingo is permitted in the state.

York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said he remains staunchly opposed to the building of a casino in South Carolina, but is less concerned about the nation’s plans to venture north.

“If they are hell bent on building a casino and that’s what they’re gonna do, would I rather see it in York County or Cleveland County? I’d rather see it in an adjoining county,” he said. “When you build something like that, you invite that trouble.”

Bryant said that building the casino elsewhere is preferable because it would not strain local enforcement nearly as much when it came to dealing with added crime from the development.

But others still think it’s too close.

“I’d rather not have it in South Carolina or the vicinity of South Carolina,” said S.C. Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, who has been a vocal opponent of gambling in the state. “It won’t be good for the people of North Carolina and it won’t be good for the people of South Carolina.”

However, Hayes said, “Anything outside of South Carolina is outside of any control we might have.”

York County Council Chairman Britt Blackwell, who has been a strong advocate for businesses but was lukewarm about a potential casino in his county last year, took a jurisdictional stance.

“It’s their business, not mine,” he said of a potential North Carolina casino. “I certainly understand the Catawba Indians finding ways to take advantage of having a casino.”

Hayes said he is banking on reluctance by North Carolina lawmakers to expand gambling rights as a way to nix the Catawba nation’s plan.

So far, lawmakers in North Carolina have expressed reticence at extending gambling rights to an out-of-state tribe.

Under South Carolina law, gambling operations are illegal with the exception of boat cruise casinos off the coast.

A casino deal between the state of North Carolina and the Catawbas would require a separate gambling compact, which would need approval by state lawmakers.

Hayes said bringing gambling to any area adds an extra layer of complication for government and law enforcement.

“It’s very difficult, if not impossible, to curb and regulate it properly,” he said.

Herald Business Editor Don Worthington contributed

Jie Jenny Zou•  803-329-4062

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