Since the state and Eastern Band of the Cherokee first signed a gambling pact in 1997, the state has held fast to this one mandate — no live dealers. For those who don’t gamble, what this means is that people who play games at Harrah’s compete against machines. That makes perfect sense when one thinks of the slots, but it makes games like blackjack, poker, roulette and craps fundamentally different — and less exciting for experienced gamblers.
The difference, of course, is that the machines take out the human interplay between the gamer and, say, the blackjack dealer, or between the roulette wheel spinner and the player. Playing against machines is more a game of chance and less a game of skill. At least that’s the thinking, and according to most gaming experts it keeps a significant segment of the gaming population from traveling to this particular casino.
Despite this mandate, business in Cherokee has been nothing less than explosive. Numbers of gamers continue to grow. About five years ago the casino announced plans for and built a hotel second tower. Two weeks ago it announced plans for a third hotel tower and the expansion of its gaming space, along with a new spa and other plush amenities gaining popularity at gaming resorts.
The positive spillover from the casino’s success has been greater than anyone ever expected. Families and communities throughout the mountains are benefiting from the jobs and the impact of the tourists. The money that goes to the tribe has turned into the economic power of the region.
Since the casino first opened, the state itself — with the support of Gov. Easley — has gotten into the gambling business. The North Carolina Education Lottery has been launched, which means any ethical high ground the state may have used in arguments to limit gambling at Harrah’s has been lost. In fact, some could argue that keeping any arbitrary regulations on the casino is an example of the state trying to maintain an advantage over a competitor in the gambling industry. Hypocrisy is another description that comes to mind.
When the tribe and the state were locked in negotiations about a year ago to allow live dealers at the casino, talks broke down. The sticking point, according to those close to the talks, was money. The state wanted a higher percentage than the tribe wanted to give. That’s more proof that the state’s objections to live dealers is just about money, not about limiting the type of gambling that takes place in Cherokee.
Those who predicted that a multitude of woes would accompany this mountain casino have been wrong. In fact, tribal leaders have proven time and again that they are using casino profits wisely to help celebrate and preserve Native American culture and to improve the health, education and economic prosperity of their members.
In the same vein, these leaders should be trusted to implement games with live dealers that will increase profits and provide even more benefits for tribal members and the region. Instead, the state is placing arbitrary shackles on an industry that is providing fuel to the economy of its western counties. It’s time to give the tribe what it wants.