The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is hoping to expand gaming operations outside North Carolina.
Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed says the tribe is looking to build a casino in Virginia. The Bristol-based facility would be part of a new development already in the works on the property.
“The Cherokees — specifically in Washington County, where Bristol is located — it is historic Cherokee aboriginal land. So we felt like all of the boxes were checked for us to at least put our name out there and express our interest,” says Sneed, who says they are always looking for new markets.
The plan is pending since the Virginia Senate has not yet finalized the bill allowing commercial gaming in the state. There is a difference between commercial gaming and tribal gaming. Right now, the Eastern Band officially operates its two casinos with tribal gaming.
“Indian Gaming is regulated as part of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act that was passed by the federal government in 1988,” says Sneed.
They can also participate in commercial gaming the same way any other business might. Additionally, commercial gaming is run by the state while tribal gaming is overseen by the federal government and local regulations.
Tennessee is also moving forward with commercial gaming in the form of mobile-only sports betting. While the Eastern Band does own land in Tennessee, Sneed says that they don’t plan to get into sports betting in the state.
“There’s not a huge profit margin in sports betting - not like people think,” Sneed says.
All this talk about expanding into new states comes amid the Catawba tribe from South Carolina’s ongoing fight to build a casino outside of Charlotte in North Carolina.
Chief Sneed is against this. In particular, he opposes a bill co-sponsored by North Carolina’s two U.S. senators. Sneed says it gives the Catawba an edge in the costly process of applying for a gaming license. Sneed says it can cost millions to do the economic and environmental impact studies needed for the application - even then it isn’t assured that the gaming license will be approved.
“The bill put forth for them by Sen. Lindsey Graham completely exempts them from that process which is in our mind completely unfair,” says Sneed.
As for the two casinos the Eastern Band already owns on the Qualla Boundary, sports betting will be coming soon. The General Assembly legalized it last year. Sneed says permits are still being reviewed but they hope to open their sports books in time for March Madness.
The casino is also expanding in other ways. They are working on a convention center plus more dining, entertainment and retail stores.
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