The US House on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would enable the South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation to build a casino in North Carolina.
The Catawba claim ancestral ties to area around Kings Mountain, close to the South Carolina border. The tribe opened a temporary facility in July after getting the green light from the Department of the Interior in March.
The House voted 361-55 in favor of the Catawba Indian Nations Lands Act, which would ratify the DOI decision. US Rep. Ralph Norman (R) who represents the district where the Catawba reservation is, in Rock Hill, South Carolina, voted against the bill.
‘Modern Day Landgrab’
The casino is controversial because North Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee, disputes the Catawba claim to the lands. The Cherokee operate the state’s only two casinos with the help of Caesars Entertainment and would prefer to keep it that way.
They have called the Cherokee plans a “modern day landgrab” and have sued the DOI for approving the Catawba application under the Indian Gaming Regulation Act (IGRA).
That’s because the Catawba specifically agreed to waive IGRA when they were officially recognized by an Act of Congress in 1993. Their efforts to establish bingo and video poker operations in South Carolina were defeated in the state Supreme Court in 2014.
As well as confirming the DOI’s decision to take the land into trust for the Catawba, the bill approved in the House Tuesday would authorize gaming under IGRA.
It would also declare the tribe exempt from a clause in IGRA which states that tribes may not build casinos on land taken into trust after the bill’s enactment in 1988.
In a statement Wednesday, the Catawba tribe voiced its “thanks and appreciation” to the House for its emphatic approval of the bill.
Like many other instances reflecting current effects of historical inequities, the Catawba Nation experiences high unemployment and poverty rates, and many of its citizens rely upon the federal and state governments for basic social services.” it said.
“The enactment of this legislation will therefore help the Catawba secure economic self-sufficiency as originally envisioned by Congress in passing the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988.”
The bill now heads to the US Senate, which may be a heavier lift, although it has bipartisan support. It is championed in the upper house by Sen. Richard Burr (R), who represents the district that contains Kings Mountain, and the influential South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham.