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No dice: Judge rejects challenge against Catawba casino plans in N.C.

No dice: Judge rejects challenge against Catawba casino plans in N.C.

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A federal judge on Friday rejected a legal challenge by the operator of North Carolina’s two casinos, saying that there are no grounds to oppose a competitor’s plans for a third gambling operation in the state.

The South Carolina-based Catawba Indian Nation has already begun working to establish Vegas-style gaming on a site in Kings Mountain, about a half hour west of Charlotte. That came after the tribe officially inked a profit-sharing deal with Gov. Roy Cooper earlier this year.

Once the Interior Department signed off on the agreement last month, South Carolina’s sole federally recognized tribe faced one more hurdle in its years-long quest to build the casino — a lawsuit by the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians, which runs two casinos in the southwestern corner of the state.

Filed last summer, the lawsuit was the latest dispute in a years-long casino turf war between the two tribes. The Catawba have long sought the jobs and good fortune the casino would bring to the cash-strapped tribe. Strict laws in South Carolina prohibit most forms of gambling. The Catawba’s attempt to cross over to North Carolina, after struggling to surmount anti-gambling opposition in South Carolina, led the General Assembly and U.S. senators from both states to get involved.

The Eastern Band argued that the land for the Catawba casino was historically theirs and that the Catawba tribe and the Interior Department had violated federal law.

But the Eastern Band lost the roll of the dice, U.S. District Judge James E. Boasberg wrote in his 55-page opinion Friday. “In the end, though, they come up with snake eyes, as on each claim they either lack standing or lose on the merits.”

The Eastern Band had previously called the Catawba efforts “a modern-day land grab.” The Catawba tribe has said they have a right to the land for the casino based on a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition. The tribe points out that it has long had historical and ancestral ties to land in North Carolina.

Catawba Indian Nation Chief Bill Harris praised the ruling, saying he hoped the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would not file a “frivolous appeal and that our two tribes can now work together for the betterment of our people.”

“This decision reaffirms the clear historical record of the Catawba’s ancestral lands and cultural ties in North Carolina and the rigorous process of review undertaken by the U.S. Department of the Interior in taking the land into trust,” Harris said in a news release.

Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said in a statement that the tribe was reviewing the ruling late Friday. He added the tribe is “examining all options for next steps. It remains clear to us that the law was broken and we will not stop until justice is served in this case.”

Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.


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