Catawba tribe to fast-track casino opening with ‘pre-launch’ facility this summer

KINGS MOUNTAIN, N.C. — The Catawba Indian Nation announced Friday that it plans to fast-track the opening of the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort project by opening a “pre-launch” facility this summer.

Officials said the facility will have 500 slot machines and will provide an initial opportunity for guests to game with limited food and drink options as well as other amenities.

“With the completion of our compact with the State of North Carolina, the Catawba Nation is eager to open the casino as quickly as possible to begin bringing economic benefits and jobs to the state and region,” Catawba Chief Bill Harris said. “We’re working with Delaware North, our consultant on the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort project, as well as our developer, Skyboat Gaming, to make that happen by opening what we are calling a ‘pre-launch’ facility this summer.”

Officials said they are still planning an introductory phase of the full casino and it will have an additional 1,300 slot machines. It will be a permanent structure that’s part of the full casino, but the construction is expected to take about a year.

The casino project is expected to create 2,600 permanent jobs once the casino is complete and thousands of construction jobs throughout the region.

“This project will prove to be a long-lasting and sustainable economic engine for the residents of Cleveland County, we are excited about the expedited timeline” Cleveland County Commissioner Johnny Hutchins said.

Officials have not announced a timeline for the “pre-launch” facility.

Feds OK casino revenue agreement between NC, Catawba tribe

The federal government has approved a revenue-sharing agreement between the Catawba Indian Nation and the state of North Carolina that clears the way for a casino near the state’s southern border.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on the compact last week, the Catawba tribe said in a news release Thursday.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper inked the deal with the Rock Hill, South Carolina-based tribe in January, paving the way for Las Vegas-style gaming at Kings Mountain, about a half hour west of Charlotte. The Catawba tribe has said the planned $273 million resort would bring thousands of jobs to North Carolina.

The tribe held a groundbreaking for the casino in July and expects an introductory gaming facility to be up and running by the end of the year, spokesperson Laney Buckley said Thursday.

Casino revenues will also go toward an environmental conservation education fund, employment opportunities on and near Catawba lands and other community initiatives, the tribe has said.

North Carolina currently has two casinos, both operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, in the southwestern corner of the state.

The Eastern Band sued the Catawbas and the Interior Department in federal court last year to try to stop the new casino. The suit, which is still pending, claims political pressure from South Carolina developer Wallace Cheves prompted the government to clear the way for the casino without congressional approval.

In addition to the casino, Cheves is planning to build nearly 600 homes and luxury apartments opposite the casino on the other side of Interstate 85.

The Catawbas have 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.

But the Cherokees have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab” and that, per the legal process, the government is supposed to follow to acquire trust land for the Catawba tribe, that land must be in South Carolina. Strict laws in South Carolina prohibit most forms of gambling in the state.

The land for the proposed casino is 35 miles northwest of the Catawba reservation in upstate South Carolina.