Gov. Beverly Perdue signed a bill on June 13, following the North Carolina Senate’s approval that morning, allowing the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians to offer live poker and other live table games at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Jackson County, reported the Examiner. Until now, the casino could only feature electronic table games.
The victory is a “milestone” for the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Michell Hicks, who has spent more than two terms in office, or nine years, pushing for state lawmakers to support a bill that would authorize live card games at the tribal casino.
The tribe hopes to make table games available to the public by the July 4th holiday.
With the addition, the tribe will increase its staff of 2,000 by an estimated 400 employees, Erik Sneed, the casino’s project manager for the new construction, told Convention South magazine. The casino will also pay the state a portion of revenues from the table games, which will go directly toward improving education. The tribe projects an estimated $60 million to $90 million will benefit North Carolina public schools over the course of the 30-year agreement. For the first five years, North Carolina will receive four percent of the gross receipts from the live table games. That share will gradually rise to eight percent in the following ten years. It should remain at eight percent for the remainder of the deal.
Also underway at Harrah’s in western North Carolina: The tribe has hired the creative architects behind the famous Bellagio in Las Vegas to remodel the mountain resort’s entrance. It will soon feature eight towering, “five-story tree” columns made of colored glass, lit from the inside to imbue a forest canopy. The “trees” will encircle a 75-foot-tall waterfall that will cascade behind a small stage. A six-feet-tall, 140-foot-long high-definition television will curve around the space, adding dramatic visual, sound and light elements to the scene with original Cherokee story lines. Numerous retail shops will open over the course of the year, including a fly fishing store that will offer educational programs. The entrance is currently under construction with an expected completion date of late summer.
“The rotunda will be our showcase,” Brooks Robinson, the casino’s general manager, told the Convention South. “The experience when you enter our casino in the future will be as good as it gets across the country. We’ve designed it to be phenomenal, but also in such a way as to be able to personalize it and focus it on a visiting convention group, say, or a specific showcase event.”
The debut of live table games and recent and upcoming expansions mark the casino’s evolution into full-fledged resort. The casino is planning on visitation growing by 25 percent, spokeswoman Aniwake Littledeer told the Asheville Citizen. They also expect to attract more upscale customers with disposable income.
In May 2011, the tribe completed the first phase of its five-year, $650 million expansion and renovation project, which started in January 2007 and included a 3,000-plus seat event center, the 21-story Creek Tower, a 1,132-space parking deck, and additional casino floor space. Even more amenities—such as an 18,000-square foot Mandara Spa, as well as Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse and Brio, a Tuscan grill—are set to open by the casino’s 15th anniversary on November 13. Then, the property will officially earn resort status, becoming Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, reported Convention South.
On May 20, 2011, the tribe and Caesars Entertainment, Inc. renewed their contract for an additional seven years. The agreement provides Harrah’s North Carolina Casino Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment, the exclusive right and obligation to develop, manage, operate and maintain the casino operation. The tribe and Caesars first inked an agreement in June 1996.