By L.A. Williams
Christian Action League
March 19. 2020
Kings Mountain, long known as the location of a tide-turning Revolutionary War battle, has been at the center of a seven-year battle over gambling. Late last week, the United States Department of the Interior gave the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation the go-ahead to establish a huge Las Vegas-style casino just outside the town in Cleveland County.
“This was certainly not welcome news to the Christian Action League nor many across North Carolina,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the League’s executive director. “The expansion of gambling hurts the poor and promotes addictions that tear apart families.”
Adam Forcade, who had led the grassroots opposition to a casino for the past five years, called the turn of events “the single biggest failure of elected leadership I’ve ever been witness to.”
“Despite clear indications from large numbers of the populace that a casino was not something we wanted in our community, Cleveland county’s elected councilmen and women as well as commissioners (at the time) engaged in every means fair and foul to encourage and facilitate bringing a Casino to Kings Mountain,” he said.
While the Catawba tribe and the gaming industry celebrated, many vowed to keep up the fight against a proposed $273 million complex that would house nearly 1,800 electronic gaming machines, 54 table games, a 940-seat restaurant, a hotel and more.
“Our research clearly indicates the Catawba Indian Nation lacks the grounds to even ask the Department of Interior to take land outside of the State of South Carolina into trust on the tribe’s behalf for gambling purposes,” said John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “We will continue to fight this Casino scheme with everything we have.”
Last May, 1,200 people signed a full-page ad in the Shelby Star asking that their lawmakers oppose “an industry that preys on the weakest sectors of society.” A local minister reported that the names were collected in just one week. And more than 100 lawmakers signed a letter opposing the casino when the Catawbas first revealed their plans back in 2013.
Forcade said he was amazed at how many people from the faith community were willing to “jump in and fight an unfunded, uphill and unfair battle against big-money lobbyists.”
Although they oppose the planned Casino for very different reasons, leaders of the Cherokee Nation were also quick to speak out against the DOI decision.
“The federal government has no right or authority to create a new reservation for the Catawba Nation across state lines, into Cherokee historical territory, just to build a Casino,” Chief Richard Sneed told the media. “This decision creates a dangerous precedent for all federally recognized tribes…”
U.S. Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro also bemoaned the push for another casino.
“Despite strong bipartisan opposition from our state and local governments, this federal over reach would give preferential treatment to a tribe recognized by South Carolina to reap benefits at the expense of North Carolinians and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians,” Walker said in a statement. “I urge my colleagues . . . (to) ensure that North Carolinians don’t have their voices stripped away.”
Headquartered on a 56,000-acre reservation known as The Qualla Boundary near Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians owns two casinos: Harrah’s Cherokee Casino, which opened in 1997, and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino near Murphy, open since 2015.
The Catawbas, forbidden by South Carolina to build a casino on their 700-acre York County reservation, claim that a 1993 agreement allows them to cross over into North Carolina to do so. The agreement, in which they dropped claims to certain York County land, netted the tribe $50 million and federal recognition. It also assigned the tribe a “service area” in six N.C. counties, including Cleveland.
The Catawbas purchased 16.75 acres off of Dixon School Road near I-85 and began petitioning the DOI to transfer the land into trust, which would open it up to gambling. Environmental assessment of the site began last December.
Catawba Chief Bill Harris said at least 5,000 people would be employed during the construction phase. Estimates for the number of employees after it opens range would be from 2,600 to 4,000.
“Once again, it’s the job claims that tend to turn heads, especially in areas where unemployment is high,” said the Rev. Creech. “Projections are pie in the sky, but state and federal officials must not forget the social costs of gambling, the jobs, homes and families of compulsive gamblers that are lost in the process, and the costs to the communities left to pick up the pieces.”
Alton Beal, a local pastor who worked alongside his neighbors to keep gambling at bay, was extremely disappointed by the DOI announcement.
“The support for the casino is the worst decision by local leaders in my 25 years as a Cleveland County resident,” he said. “It was very disappointing to see a proposed Senate Bill fail, and yet the casino was approved by the Department of the Interior in spite of local opposition and a question about its legality. Truly a sad time for Cleveland County.”
Forcade expressed similar sentiments.
“I am saddened at the evil misery that is coming to the unwitting members of our community who in the end were only deemed as valuable as a dollar sign,” he said.
Nonetheless, Forcade says he has no regrets and has made many friends during the battle.
“So many people gave extravagantly of time and energy,” he said. “Also, I want to thank Dr. Creech and all of the folks at the Christian Action League for in-person and behind the scenes help, advice and encouragement.”