North Carolina’s Cherokee tribe is taking a gamble beyond $10 blackjack tables. Despite the overall decline in the gambling industry, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will open a second casino – Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – in the western part of the state at the end of the month, bringing slots and blackjack tables an hour closer to Atlanta.
The $110 million gambit will rely on a new niche of gamblers taking advantage of the expansion, instead of culling visitors from the tribe’s larger, existing casino (Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort), located just 60 miles away. Atlanta, Chattanooga, and Knoxville residents will be the new resort’s target audience with out-of-state visitors being the ultimate key to success.
Neither South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, nor Virginia have Las Vegas-style casinos, which bodes well for Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, set to open on Sep. 28.
The National Indian Gaming Commission reports that revenue increased by less than a percentage point in 2013 and by less than two points last year. However, the Cherokee resorts in North Carolina have yet to see a loss and the band is hoping the new venture will continue that success.
Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River will boast roughly 300 rooms, 70 gaming tables, and 1,000 electronic games and slots – making it about one-third the size of the existing casino. It is expected to employ roughly 900 North Carolina residents, a majority of whom will not be tribe members. There will be a lounge and food court but, unlike most major casinos, no stand-alone restaurants.
Michell Hicks, the outgoing principal chief for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, told the Associated Press that casino expansion has allowed the band to make school and infrastructure improvements, as well as build a new hospital.
“I think even 20, 25 years down the road, people are going to look back and just see that foundation was pretty broad … to give great benefit to the tribe and to the people and to western North Carolina,”said Hicks.
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