In early February, the Tribal Council of the EBCI approved a $650 million commitment to expand the casino and hotel over the next five years with an estimated 1,000 new jobs. And guess what? The tribe is doing so with no aid or incentives from the State of North Carolina or any of its public/private economic development partnerships such as AdvantageWest.
This is not to downplay the importance of the new Google facility in Caldwell County but rather to try to understand why the State is willing to offer an incentive package of $260 million when it is not willing to let the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have traditional gaming which will in turn allow the tribe to compete on a level field with other casinos in the southeast.
I’d like to ask Gov. Easley why the state feels comfortable offering a multi-million dollar incentive package to the non-Indian business community and yet continue to keep the tribe from realizing the full potential from its one true economic opportunity: gaming?
Undoubtedly, the state is using leverage to gain some monies, such as other states have, from Indian gaming. The State should realistically look at the way the tribe still generates massive amounts of revenue to the State of North Carolina through state income tax paid by a majority of employees at the casino. It should be underscored that the majority of casino and casino hotel employees are not Indian!
Another consideration is that tribal members do pay sales tax on all merchandise purchased off the reservation. This translates to every tribal member who shops in Jackson, Swain, Macon, Haywood, Buncombe, Meck-lenburg, Henderson and every other county in North Carolina paying state sales tax! This amounts to millions of state revenue from tribal members and all non-Indian employees of the tribe and its casino/hotel operation. And it will continue to grow through expanded gaming/hotel facilities in Cherokee.
Additionally, purchases by the casino from North Carolina businesses for food, electricity, uniforms, vehicles, etc., etc., etc. is in the millions of dollars.
There are also those of us who are non-Indian and have retired from tribal government employment. This tribe’s retirement package is financially underwritten by casino revenues, and yes, as non-Indians we have to pay state income tax on our retirement benefits from the tribe.
So, as one voice which is fully aware of the past and future economic potential of the tribe’s gaming and hotel operation, I urge the governor of North Carolina to allow traditional gaming as permitted in the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988. It will provide more jobs, more revenue which is ultimately distributed throughout North Carolina and cost the State of North Carolina nothing, not one dollar. Compare that to the $260 million for 210 jobs at Google!
David Redman of Sylva is the retired director of Tourism Development for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.