By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
MAXTON — Lumbee leaders who signed a contract that would allow a gaming company to manage gaming activities and take 30 percent of gaming revenue are having a hard time convincing anyone that gaming is not the real issue.
“This is all about recognition and has nothing to do with gaming,” Tribal Chairman Purnell swett told “The Robesonian” last month, referring to the contract signed by former chairman Jimmy Goins late in 2009 and now the center of a growing controversy. Swett said the tribe remains opposed to gaming even as it fired attorney Arlinda Locklear, a 22-year veteran of the tribe’s fight for full federal recognition, and agreed to have a gaming company represent the Lumbees in Washington.
The issue came to a head Thursday night when the Lumbee Tribal Council refused to rescind the ill-fated contract, which could cost the tribe $35 million if it doesn’t agree to gambling after federal permission is granted. Those protesting the deal that four council members made with Lewin International last December are moving ahead with plans to recall some council members, a process that first requires the signatures of 10 percent of Lumbees who voted in the last election.
According to the recently formed Lumbee Sovereignty Coalition (LSC), the full Tribal Council learned about the contract in mid-February and voted in mid-March to ratify it at as “previously unannounced, out of territory meeting” at the NC Indian Unity Conference in Raleigh. The Council’s actions would have become final Thursday if members had codified the March vote, however they stopped short of approving those meeting minutes or putting it into the form of an ordinance.
The contract, which would last at least until Jan. 3, 2011, makes Lewin the “exclusive” advisor and consultant in the Tribe’s effort to win federal recognition. If legislation is approved this year, but it precludes gaming (as does the current bill that has been passed by the House and is pending in the Senate), Lewin gets a development management agreement to decide what goes on tribal property, including restaurants, hotels, etc., and will be paid 3 percent of the Cost of Work for the Master Plan and $400,000 a year as an expense stipend or $13 million within about two years of the federal recognition. The company would also be entitled to manage all non-gaming operations on the property or be paid another $7 million.
If the Tribe is federally recognized and also gets gaming rights, the contract goes further to earmark 30 percent of net gaming revenue for Lewin or the tribe pays $35 million. Even if the tribe votes against allowing gaming, it will still owe the $35 million and Lewin would be able to take any assets of the tribal government and any money owed it to enforce the contract. According to WRAL, the tribe, with roughly 55,000 people in Robeson, Cumberland, Hoke and Scotland counties, owns some $50 million in homes, rental properties and community centers.
Not surprisingly, 75 percent of respondents to a Web site poll posted by the LSC disagree with the Council’s decision to contract with Lewin. The group, which has no formal position on gaming, has sponsored a number of community meetings to spread the word on the contract’s terms and help empower Lumbees to hold their Council accountable to the Tribe’s constitution and to get involved with the push for federal recognition.
“This contract doesn’t have anything to do with recognition. It’s all about gaming,” Coalition member Beth Jacobs told the Robesonian. “Even without gaming the action of the council has resulted in giving away complete control of our economy … It gives away the tribe’s sovereignty and even allows for the tribe’s constitution to be rewritten.”
Don Scott was one of many opponents of the contract at Thursday’s meeting. He told the Council that casinos would only add to the area’s poverty and drug problems.
“Down the road, it may come back to haunt us,” he said.
No doubt. One of the most thorough studies of casinos and crime showed significant increases in violent crimes such as aggravated assault, rape and robbery as well as property crimes including larceny, burglary and car theft all within three to four years of a casino’s opening – a reflection of the time it takes for gamblers to use up their resources.
That’s one of many reasons the North Carolina Family Policy Council called the idea of casino gambling along the I-95 corridor “cause for serious concern.”
“Such a casino, or casinos, would not only attract gamblers from the local counties, but from across North Carolina and other surrounding states. In fact, it would be the only casino on I-95 between New Jersey and Florida thus assuring that it will quickly expand into a full-blown gambling destination for the Southeast,” NCFPC researchers wrote in a 2004 policy paper, adding that such an operation would create thousands of new gambling addicts.
“The Christian Action League has consistently opposed federal recognition for the Lumbees all along for this very reason,” said the Rev. Mark Creech. “It will undoubtedly lead to gambling. And with gambling, nobody wins.”
To find out more about the contract with Lewin signed by the Tribal Council, see the LSC Web site at http://lumbeesovereigntycoalition.com