How much money do Cherokee
The Harrah’s Cherokee Casino
in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina opened in 1994 to mixed feelings on the part of the residents of the small mountain
city, but has since proved to be a winner. The casino is situated on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian Reservation
one mile from the downtown area. At a cost of $93 million it contains 175,000 square feet of video gaming, restaurants,
and entertainment areas. Dazzling lights and glitzy finishes line the interior where visitors play some 3,500
video slots, poker, blackjack, and other games that pay out as much as $159 million annually. Now the state’s
largest tourist destination, the alcohol-free casino attracts 3.3 million visitors each year and continues to grow.
Due to the popularity of the casino, Harrah’s has constructed an adjacent fifteen-story hotel and conference center
and plans to mirror it with another tower soon.
In August of 1994 Governor Jim Hunt
signed a seven-year contract with former Indian Chief Jonathan Ed Taylor that permitted gambling on the reservation.
Hunt, who was opposed to gambling, signed the compact because of the economic difficulties of the depressed reservation.
At that time, the Cherokee area had one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, sometimes as high as 50 percent, and
a very grim economic outlook.
The casino is owned by the Cherokee Indians who pay Las Vegas-based Harrah’s
Entertainment to run it. In addition to gaming, the facility also hosts top-name entertainment such as Wynonna, the
Spinners, Jeff Foxworthy, and Vince Gill in the 1,500-seat Cherokee Pavilion Theater.
Indians Benefit Directly From Revenue
Harrah’s provides employment for approximately 1,800 individuals
with the average salary being $37,000. Each of 12,500 enrolled tribal members, children and adults alike, receives biannual
checks averaging $3,500 that are drawn from the 50 percent of casino revenue that is distributed to the Indians. Benefits
for children are placed in a trust fund that they can access when they turn 18 if they have graduated from high school.
If they do not graduate, they do not receive the money until they are 21. A Cherokee born today would stand to receive
at least $168,000 when he or she turns 18. The tribe pays for financial training classes for both high school students
and adults. It is not a requirement that tribal members drawing checks live on the reservation, though approximately
Because of the influx of money into the economy, the tribal government is
also able to pay better wages to its employees and has increased its staff from 300 to 900. The tribal budget has grown
from about $10 million a year to over $120 million. The tribe is developing a home ownership program that will help
people buy mid-range priced homes in an attempt to get rid of the trailers. Tribal leaders have agreed to pave every
driveway on the reservation.
Reservation Benefits from Revenue
Changes can be seen throughout the reservation in the form of better
housing, attractive landscaping, upgraded water and sewer systems, and improved schools. Gambling dollars have funded
a diabetes clinic, an urgent care clinic, a wellness center, a youth center, a recreational park, a visitor center, a community
center, a nursery, a fire substation, and land purchases. Portions of earnings are earmarked for a higher education
fund providing college scholarships for tribal members. Charitable causes in Western North Carolina also benefit from
the profits. The tribe uses funds for the local hospital and also operates a senior citizens’ home.
Historically the Cherokee Indian Reservation businesses closed their doors
for the winter months. But in the years since the opening of the casino business has remained steady with tourists visiting
every month of the year, providing year-round employment for many. The casino is open 24 hours a day seven days a week.
Crime has decreased because the reservation can now afford advanced training for their officers and they have been able to
expand their police force.
Nearby Towns Also Feel the Effects
Cherokee isn't the only town that is benefiting from the profits.
Surrounding counties also see increased revenue with totals of more than $15 million in the past year. New restaurants,
hotels, and other businesses have sprung up in nearby communities.
Because compulsive gambling can be a serious problem, a pro-active program
is maintained by Harrah’s to promote responsible gambling. Also, a local chapter of Gamblers Anonymous holds weekly
meetings to help those with a problem.
A Bright Outlook For The Future
Because of the tremendous success of the casino and hotel, a second
$62 million hotel is in the works for the near future. Additional parking garages are also planned. Harrah’s
has given Cherokee the revitalization it needs and a bright outlook on the future by injecting hundreds of millions of dollars
into the economy. With their newfound success, the Cherokee will continue to balance promoting their history and gambling
on their future. A minimum of $5 million a year goes to the Cherokee Preservation Foundation that helps keep the region
from losing its culture. Formerly one of the poorest communities in the region, the
reservation could soon become one of the wealthiest. Current Principal Chief Leon Jones knows a lot of people were against
the casino in the beginning, but he doubts they would oppose it now. See also History of the Cherokee Indians.
Credits: utm.edu, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Harrah’s
Cherokee Hotel and Casino.