After years of a stalemate with the state over live dealers at Harrah’s Casino, the election of Gov. Beverly Perdue signaled new hope for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians that an agreement finally could be reached.
Perdue had signaled a willingness to reopen talks about allowing live dealers, in addition to the electronic games now offered at Harrah’s. But the state’s banned video gambling industry has other ideas.
A lawsuit filed by a video gaming firm argues the governor does not have the right to negotiate gambling compacts with the Cherokee, alleging that the power lies only with the General Assembly.
“The approval of compacts between the State of North Carolina and other sovereign entities, including the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, is a core legislative function; therefore, by negotiating and executing the Compact and amendments thereto Governors Hunt and Easley violated the state constitution’s ‘separation of power’ clause,” states the complaint filed by New Vemco Music Co. in Wake County Superior Court in February.
It’s the second such case filed by New Vemco. Last year, a lawsuit claimed the state didn’t have the right to allow video gambling in Cherokee while banning it everywhere else. The company has appealed to the Supreme Court, which hasn’t yet decided whether to review the case.
Ralph Amik, New Vemco’s owner, pledged to keep fighting for to restore the outlawed video poker industry in the state.
“We may wind up taking it to the Supreme Court to do it, but we are going to win,” Amik said. “I don’t care what the Cherokees do. I really and truly don’t, but we were in business first. They can’t give it to one and not the other.”
Together the two cases have been seen as an effort to force the state to lift its ban on video gaming, which it prohibited in 2007, by hamstringing the process of expanding gaming on the Qualla Boundary.
Officials in the governor’s office have acknowledged that the cases have stalled negotiations over live gaming at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
“The governor has always welcomed that dialogue with the Cherokee, but the fact that there are two legal cases pending in court certainly affects her ability to carry those discussions forward,” said Chrissy Pearson, Gov. Perdue’s press secretary.
Pearson said the governor would wait until the cases are resolved to move forward with the live dealer discussion.
“The crux is that both cases do need to go through the courts so we can know what precedents will be set before we proceed any further,” Pearson said.
Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Michell Hicks would not comment on the status of the live dealer discussion or the lawsuits, citing a policy against discussing “pending lawsuits or compact negotiations with the state” with the media.