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Wednesday, 25 March 2009 20:59

Cherokee voters to decide on alcohol sales at casino

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After years of grappling with the controversial issue of alcohol sales on tribal land, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote on June 4 whether to allow the sale of alcohol at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

If voters approve the measure, alcohol will be sold only at the casino. The rest of tribal land, known as the Qualla Boundary, will continue to by dry, with the sale of beer, wine or liquor banned in all other stores or restaurants.

In recent months, a petition gathered enough signatures to force the measure to be put on the ballot. Before a vote could be scheduled, however, the Tribal Council had to pass a resolution directing the elections board to hold the election. The Tribal Council did so this month.

The Tribal Council’s passing of the resolution is basically a technicality, but the council could have voted it down and stopped the election despite the petition signatures.

Alcohol is a sensitive cultural, religious and political issue for the Cherokee. Despite a push among some over the years to allow alcohol sales, political leaders have avoided voting on the issue themselves, and until recently were even reluctant to give their blessing to a referendum.

Last summer the Tribal Council narrowly voted to allow a referendum to decide whether alcohol should be sold at the casino, but Chief Michel Hicks vetoed it, saying alcohol dishonors the Cherokee forefathers.

However, Hicks said he would not veto the referendum this time since the people have spoken in favor of having an election. There were 1,875 tribal members who signed the petition.

Despite the negative connotations of alcohol for Native Americans, allowing sales at the casino would obviously increase revenues. Casino revenues are used to support tribal operations, from education to health care. A portion is also split among all tribal members in the form of twice annual checks.

With the casino business suffering slightly from the recession, checks are expected to be down. The alcohol vote will be held the same week those checks come out, so the issue will be at the forefront.

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