The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is facing a labor crisis at its two North Carolina casinos. The Charlotte Observer reports that almost 800 jobs are currently unfilled at its flagship Harrah’s Cherokee Resort, and 90 at its sister property, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino in Murphy.
Tribal council member Boyd Owle said during a recent council meeting that there simply aren’t enough workers to go around. And things won’t improve when the Catawba tribe completes construction of its Two Kings Casino, 130 miles to the east of the Cherokee reservation.
Owle said the tribe has no choice but to try to attract foreign workers via the US government’s H-2B temporary non-agricultural workers visa program. The tribe is currently looking at a 9.5-acre parcel of land, with a view to build dorms that would house foreign workers.
Where Are All the Workers?
The Catawbas are building a $273 million casino in Kings Mountain, near Charlotte, in partnership with Delaware North. In July, it opened a single-story facility with about 260 employees. That’s expected to balloon tenfold when the project is completed. The finished article will employ around 2,600 workers on a permanent basis.
Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed told the Observer that the Catawbas have the upper hand when it comes to recruitment because they can draw on the populous Charlotte region.
The two Cherokee casinos are based in mountainous western North Carolina, which attracts tourists. But the distinct lack of a nearby large population center has left them bereft of workers.
Tribal spokesperson Breanna Sneed told The Observer the pandemic has piled further pressure on a threadbare workforce.
“…[W]e did have many employees who chose not to return to work with the onset of the pandemic for a variety of reasons,” she said. “With the growth of our property, extraordinary business demand from our guests, and vacancies created by the pandemic, we have seen the number of open positions rise over the past two years,” she said.
Catawba ‘Land Grab’
The Cherokee bitterly opposed the Catawba project, which was controversial. The Catawba are based in South Carolina, where they are prohibited from operating gaming. That’s because the tribe agreed to waive the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the federal legislation that codified tribal gaming rights, when they were officially recognized by an Act of Congress in 1993.
Efforts to establish bingo and video poker operations on their South Carolina reservation were defeated in the state Supreme Court in 2014.
The Catawbas claim historical ties to the area around Kings Mountain, which the Cherokee dispute. Principal Chief Sneed has described Congressional support of the Catawba claim as a “modern day land grab.”
In December, President Joe Biden signed a bill into law, restoring Catawba gaming rights under IGRA.
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