By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
May 27, 2021
The Catawba Indians’ plan to build a huge Las Vegas-style casino near Kings Mountain cleared another federal hurdle this week, but the Rev. Mark Creech says the move is no cause for celebration.
“I think this is exceedingly sad for the people of Cleveland County. Bad business drives out good business,” said Creech, the executive director of the Christian Action League. He called casinos “a shell game that pulls money from one person’s pocket to another.”
“Gambling produces nothing of lasting value. And the more people gamble, the poorer everyone is. If everybody gambled to get money, we would all starve,” he said. “Casinos are about exchanging what is substantive for what is nominal. Really, it’s about exchanging morality for money.”
That exchange may crank up sooner rather than later following Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, which passed House Resolution 1619, the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, in effect giving its stamp of approval to the Department of the Interior’s end-run around federal laws when it took the 17-acre site 35 miles west of Charlotte into a trust for the Rock Hill, S.C.-based tribe.
Forbidden by the Palmetto State to build a casino on their 700-acre York County reservation, the Catawbas have continued to claim that a 1993 agreement allows them to cross over into North Carolina to do so. That agreement, in which they dropped claims to certain York County land, netted the tribe $50 million and federal recognition in addition to assigning it a “service area” in six N.C. counties, including Cleveland. But it also expressly stated that the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act would not apply to the Catawba tribe and that the state of South Carolina would govern “the regulation of gambling devices and the conduct of gambling or wagering by the Tribe on and off the Reservation.”
Nonetheless, nearly a decade ago, the tribe began pushing for a casino in the Tar Heel State, initially facing strong opposition from officials in Washington and Raleigh and from many Cleveland County residents. Since then, most lawmakers have changed their tune.
“The Catawba Indian Nation tried for years to get casino gambling in South Carolina and failed, so they decided to join forces with dubious gambling developer Wallace Cheves and ‘reservation shop’ for a gambling casino development in North Carolina,” explained NC Family Policy Council President John L. Rustin.
“The settlement agreement under which the Catawba Indian Nation operates today does not allow gambling operations outside of the state of South Carolina, and it never even contemplated that the tribe would seek to obtain tribal lands or pursue gambling operations in another state,” he said. “If passed, H.R. 1619 would legalize this illegitimate gambling venture and prey upon citizens, families and communities in the heart of North Carolina’s Piedmont area.”
The Catawbas’ request to operate a casino rightfully sat dormant with the Bureau of Indian Affairs for four years until, in 2019, U.S. senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Richard Burr (R-NC) and Thom Tillis (R-NC) filed a bill to undermine the 1993 agreement and push the Department of the Interior to take the North Carolina land into a trust for the Catawbas. That happened in March of 2020. Four months later, the tribe broke ground on a temporary casino expected to open later this year in advance of its planned $273 million Two Kings Casino Resort.
Then in January of this year, North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, who had been opposed to the casino when he was the state’s attorney general, suddenly signed a tribal-state compact allowing the Catawbas to conduct video poker, Las Vegas-style table games, sports betting and wagering on horse racing. The BIA approved the compact in March.
Even so, the casino still faces legal opposition from the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which already operates two casinos in western North Carolina. The Cherokees filed suit as soon as the DOI took the land into trust, and have maintained that the move was illegal and that historically, the land belonged to them. A federal judge ruled against the Cherokees in April, but on May 21, the tribe filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington in which they also named the DOI as a defendant.
As for the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act, which passed out of committee this week, it would still need to win approval from the full House and Senate and be signed by the president to become law and presumably seal the deal for the casino proponents.