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Catawba Nation In Bitter Battle Over North Carolina Casino Development

Written By J.R. Duren | Updated:
Mountain Range With Trees Landscape and Catawba Nation seal

The Catawba Nation, a federally recognized tribe based in South Carolina, is calling on a development partner for its North Carolina casino to stop taking advantage of the tribe.

Catawba Nation Chief Brian Harris released a statement last week asking developer Sky Boat Gaming to withdraw its demand of a $125 million payoff and accept a “fair exit deal” that allows the tribe to move forward with its $700 million Catawba Two Kings Casino development just north of Charlotte.

According to a press release included in a Facebook post by Harris, he said:

“Sky Boat is holding hostage this casino resort project and all of the economic and quality-of-life benefits for our people and residents of the area. We need a fair deal so we can realize the full financial benefits of the project, create 2,600 permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs, and provide local governments and the state of North Carolina with tax revenue and other investments under our compact.”

How the Catawba Nation and Sky Boat Gaming rift developed

The Catawba Nation announced it would build a $700 million casino-resort property in Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

While construction of the permanent casino went through its initial steps, the tribe built a temporary casino. It hired Sky Boat Gaming to build the new casino and a parking lot for its temporary casino.

In December, the National Indian Gaming Commission (NIGC) sent Catawba and Sky Boat a violation notice. The notice stated that the Sky Boat-Catawba Nation partnership lacked the proper management contracts.

Sky Boat was tasked with securing trust land for the Catawba, but according to the release, the company secured non-trust land around the trust land for itself and then built the parking lot on the non-trust land. That move contributed to the NIGC’s violation notice, the tribe contended.

The NIGC asked the Catawba and Sky Boat to resolve the issue. Harris met with Sky Boat owner Wallace Cheves earlier this month to resolve the issue, according to the release.

However, Cheves offered a contract to Harris that required the Catawba to pay a one-time fee of $125 million and a yearly sum of $6 million to regain sufficient land ownership. Harris rejected the terms.

Of note, though, is that while the NIGC didn’t approve the settlement terms, it did acknowledge that the contract was no longer a management contract. Therefore, it satisfied the ownership requirements that got the Catawba into hot water in the first place, according to Harris.

Sky Boat is demanding $125 million up front and $6 million a year to resolve the management contract issue, Harris said.

Tribe looking ahead to new North Carolina casino

Because the contract between Sky Boat and the Catawba is no longer a management contract, the tribe might be able to move forward with its tribal casino development once it settles with Sky Boat.

“Not long after we reach a fair settlement with Sky Boat, we will be ready to put shovels in the ground and begin this long-awaited and vital project,” Harris said.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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