The construction and opening of the Catawba Two Kings Casino in Cleveland County could be slowed by a federal investigation into how it was approved, according to a Sunday report from The Wall Street Journal.
The report centers on Kings Mountain Equipment Supply LLC, a company which the Journal found gave shares to relatives of powerful politicians in North and South Carolina as the South Carolina tribe sought an unusual permission to build their casino across the border in North Carolina. Among those receiving shares were the brother of U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, a South Carolina Democrat, and Democratic political operative Patti Sollis Doyle. The husband of former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Haley’s attorney Butch Bowers also received shares, the Journal reported.
The National Indian Gaming Commission is investigating.
Policy Watch readers will remember our series of stories on the troubled casino project from 2020, which included an examination of how local and state figures connected to the project profited and the questionable connections and history of the casino’s backers.
As the Policy Watch investigative series illuminated there have for years been questions about conflicts of interest and potential political corruption in the development.
Policy Watch’s investigation found the family of Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler owned land valued at $4.2 million in the area, including a 783 acre parcel within a mile of the new casino. Neisler, who confirmed those figures with Policy Watch, did not make the claim that mineral rights would prevent development and denied his family company’s large holdings amounted to a conflict of interests.
“My house even in town is going to go up in price, so that’s a conflict of interest,” Neisler told Policy Watch. “But that’s kind of looking in futuristic terms and saying, ‘Hey, something two miles down the road is going to be worth a whole lot because this is coming in.’ Well, it could and it couldn’t. I don’t know.”
The Catawba and Cherokee tribes have been in conflict over the casino development for years.
At issue: a proposed $273 million, 17-acre project in Cleveland County. The Catawba Indian Nation has been working for seven years to make the resort a reality. It plans gaming tables, 1,300 electronic game machines as well as restaurants, which it says will economically benefit the tribe and the area.
Although the Catawba’s headquarters are just across the border in Rock Hill, SC, the tribe claims the 17 acres in North Carolina as its ancestral land. The US Department of the Interior initially rejected the tribe’s request to acquire the land, citing a land settlement act approved by Congress in 1993. Under that act, the Catawba tribe is prohibited by South Carolina law from pursuing more lucrative gaming, having to restrict itself to high-stakes bingo. But the federal government reversed that decision in March, allowing the tribe to cross state lines and break ground on the resort in July.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opposes the resort. That tribe, which operates two casinos in western North Carolina, also claims the land in question as its ancestral territory and is suing in federal court. Tribal leaders say the federal government allowing the Catawba to move across state lines for the purposes of more lucrative gaming interests sets a bad precedent.
Clyburn, whose brother received shares in Kings Mountain Equipment LLC, filed the bill preventing the Cherokee tribe from being able to sue the federal government over the development.
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