The recession has taken a toll on liquor sales at the ABC stores in Maggie Valley and Waynesville, in turn reducing the profits paid out to the towns.
Rather than curtailing their intake, customers are buying cheaper brands, according to Joy Rasmus, manager of the Waynesville ABC store.
“It is an easy thing to cut back on. It is a luxury item,” Rasmus said.
Meanwhile, fewer tourists during the recession hurt sales at Maggie’s main ABC store. Austin Pendley, the chairman of the Maggie ABC board, cited “the lack of full motel rooms” as the main factor behind a drop in sales.
Maggie Valley’s ABC store has noticed a further decline in business following the rockslide on I-40, which closed part of the interstate and discouraged travel.
“We could tell an immediate difference,” Pendley said.
That said, the rockslide occurred just when the tourist season was winding down anyway, making it difficult to determine what can be blamed on the rockslide versus the standard drop off Maggie sees this time of year anyway.
“There are too many variables this year,” Pendley said, adding that sales will pick up again when ski season arrives in full force.
Maggie is also bracing for a potential loss in ABC revenue with the advent of liquor at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel. The hotel at Harrah’s began selling alcohol in restaurants and bars this fall, with hopes of eventually offering it inside the casino itself.
Maggie’s ABC store had been a favorite stop for those en route to Harrah’s.
“It will definitely have an effect. There’s no doubt about that, but to what degree I do not know,” Pendley said.
Maggie’s ABC store did a brisk business in miniature airplane bottles, which gamblers would tuck into their pockets and purses before heading over the mountain to the casino.
If and when Harrah’s begins offering alcohol to gamblers on the casino floor, Pendley expects a drop off in sales of airplane bottles.
In a tactical move to grow revenues, Maggie Valley opened a second ABC store this year aimed at capturing business from Waynesville. Maggie’s second store is on the outer fringes of town — more than a mile outside the town proper. Maggie annexed a satellite tract into its town limits to strategically build a new store between Maggie and Waynesville on U.S. 19 in Dellwood.
“Building store number two has been very gratifying,” Pendley said.
The second store likely pulled some business away from Maggie’s existing ABC store.
“We knew some portion would be siphoned from store number one. We don’t know how much,” Pendley said, citing the myriad variables at play this year.
Since Maggie’s new store opened, revenue at Waynesville’s ABC profits have taken a dive (see chart). While Maggie ABC revenue has grown by an additional $30,000 to $50,000 a month since the opening of the new store, Waynesville’s has dropped by a comparable amount.
The drop in revenue came as no surprise to Joy Rasmus, the manager of the Waynesville ABC store.
“We were expecting an impact, but we didn’t know how much,” Rasmus said.
Waynesville once captured a large share of the liquor purchases in the county by default. Residents from the county’s outlying areas come to Waynesville for their grocery shopping. While in the neighborhood, they would stop by the ABC store.
But Maggie’s new store — stationed practically at Waynesville’s doorstep — is snagging a share of what Waynesville once got.
It’s particularly true for those making a special trip from places like Lake Junaluska and Jonathan Creek.
“If you were just coming to town to buy alcohol, it is easier to stop at Maggie’s new store,” Rasmus said.
In response, Waynesville’s ABC Board is contemplating a new store of its own: one in the vicinity of the new Super Wal-Mart. Super Wal-Mart pulls in a huge volume of traffic, which Rasmus would like to capitalize on.
The current ABC store in Waynesville has been there since 1967.
“Absolutely we’ve outgrown it,” Rasmus said.
The Waynesville ABC Board is keeping an eye out for property to build on in the Super Wal-Mart vicinity, but there’s nothing concrete in the works yet.
“In a perfect world, it would be nice to keep two stores,” Rasmus said.
Opening a new ABC store isn’t cheap, Pendley said. There’s the cost of land and construction, but there’s also start up costs like shelving and a computer system. The upfront inventory cost to stock the store was “overwhelming,” Pendley added.
“We had no idea that there was going to be a recession or we probably wouldn’t have done it at this time, but we were too far committed not to go ahead with it,” Pendley said of the second store.
But Pendley is glad they did. The second store has already proven lucrative and will continue to pay off for the town, which reaps the profits from ABC operations.
“The whole purpose is to get more revenue to keep down taxes,” Pendley said of their mission.
While the addition of alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel will undoubtedly be lucrative for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, they won’t be alone in reaping a windfall.
Harrah’s will order all its liquor from the ABC stores in Sylva and Bryson City, which in turn will benefit the town’s coffers. The tribe does not have its own ABC store, and thus had to look to neighboring locales for its liquor.
Tension inevitably erupted between the ABC boards in Sylva and Bryson City at first, as each clamored at the chance to be Harrah’s supplier — and reap the profits and tax revenue off each bottle.
Typically, restaurants and bars buy liquor from the ABC store in their own town or county. In this case, however, the Cherokee Reservation straddles Jackson and Swain counties. Harrah’s itself lies on the Jackson County side, giving the Sylva ABC store de facto standing. But Bryson City is physically closer.
A compromise worked out between the Bryson City and Sylva ABC boards created a special joint board to exclusively handle alcohol sales to Harrah’s. They will share profits evenly.
N.C. Representative Phil Haire, D-Sylva, and Jackson County Commissioner Tom Massie encouraged the two ABC boards to work together.
“Half of something is better than 100 percent of nothing,” said Massie, adding that both counties would be affected by the addition of alcohol at the casino.
“We’re the ones that are going to have to deal with any problems coming from alcohol sales on the reservation, depending on whether they go east or west,” said Massie. “If we’re going to get the problems, we should get some of the revenues.”
Bryson City’s ABC board is admittedly doing most of the work, primarily since it has extra warehouse space to handle the added inventory, according to Laurie Lee, an auditor with the state’s ABC commission.
“The day-to-day work is handled by Bryson City,” said Lee.
Bryson City will order alcohol, provide warehouse space and take orders from the casino, according to Monty Clampitt, chairman of the Bryson City ABC board.
The Sylva ABC board’s only tasks are to “maintain the alcohol permit” for the joint operation and appoint members to Bryson City-Sylva ABC board.
However, both boards will advance $7,500 to cover initial start-up costs.
“The cost is almost nothing,” said Clampitt. “We have the warehouse space already. Labor would be provided by current employees.”
Alcohol for the casino will be stored in Bryson City’s old warehouse, while the new warehouse, built last year, will continue to be used for basic store operations.
The tribe plans to handle law enforcement, thus receiving the customary 5 percent of ABC profits designated for the local police station. The remaining profits will be split evenly between the Bryson City and Sylva ABC boards.
The two boards had been working on an agreement since September and finally signed a contract in mid-October. The state ABC commission formally approved the merger in mid-November, paving the way for Harrah’s to starting offering liquor drinks.
“I think this is a good compromise,” said Massie. “I think it benefits all involved.”
When asked about how much he expected his ABC board to profit from the expansion, Clampitt replied, “My crystal ball’s broken.”
For now, the takeover is going smoothly, according to all parties involved.
“It’s a new venture and we are proceeding as responsibly and carefully as we can,” said Charles Pringle, spokesman for Harrah’s Cherokee.
Cherokee isn’t the only one that potentially stands to make money off the sale of alcohol to patrons at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
Swain or Jackson counties could see a mini-windfall of their own if Harrah’s purchases vast quantities of liquor from the ABC stores in either Bryson City or Sylva.
Restaurants and bars that serve liquor must buy their booze from the nearest or most convenient ABC store — part of the tightly regulated nature of liquor that ensures collection of a hefty excise tax tacked on to each bottle.
While the state lays claim to the excise tax revenue, any profit turned by an ABC store remains with local coffers, generally split between the county and town where the store is located. More booze being purchased, especially the bulk quantities that gamblers at Harrah’s are bound to consume, means more profit for whichever store lands their business.
Before Sylva or Bryson City get too excited about the prospect, however, typical state laws governing liquor purchases may not apply to establishments in Cherokee, which consider itself a sovereign nation.
“They’re different,” said Laurie Lee, the auditor for the N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Commission. “We don’t know at this point how it is going to work. It is a unique situation.”
Instead of buying liquor from the existing ABC stores in either Bryson or Sylva, Cherokee might look for a way to keep any profits of the bulk liquor purchases for themselves. That would essentially mean setting up its own ABC store.
State law requires voters in an area to approve the opening of an ABC store. Such a vote would be tough to pass in Cherokee where alcohol is a controversial issue, both for cultural, social and religious reasons.
While Cherokee voters approved a measure earlier this month to allow drink sales at the casino, the rest of the Cherokee reservation will remain dry. The pledge to limit drink sales to casino premises assuaged many who otherwise would have voted “no” — making it unlikely a vote on setting up an ABC store would curry favor from the majority.
But once again, it is possible an exception could be made for Cherokee. If Cherokee wanted to set up its own ABC store with the sole purpose of selling liquor to Harrah’s — rather than to the public — the state may allow such an arrangement without requiring the regular referendum.
Yet another option is for Cherokee to buy its liquor directly from the state warehouse, bypassing the Sylva and Bryson ABC stores. The state might like that idea, since it would stand to make the profits from the bulk orders.
“It is all a gray area right now,” Lee said. “Whether they will purchase directly through our warehouse or go through a local ABC board or whether they could set up their own store, we are researching all those issues. Those are all things that will have to be worked out.”
The first step is for Cherokee to decide on its preferred arrangement and then ask the state if it’s OK.
Norma Moss, the director of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, said the tribe hasn’t worked through those details yet.
“The distribution process still needs to be decided,” Moss said.
When Beverly Easton came to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino for the first time and realized there was no drinking, she wondered how an alcohol-free casino could even exist.
“I think it is a deterrent,” said Easton, who was visiting Harrah’s from Charlotte last Thursday. “You come here to have fun and relax, and having a cocktail is part of it.”
Such an integral part, in fact, that when Linda Moutray tried to orchestrate her five sisters to shift the venue of their annual rendezvous from Las Vegas to Cherokee, it was a deal killer.
“I thought, ‘Let’s all come here instead,’ but they wouldn’t because there’s not alcohol,” said Moutray of Gainesville, Ga.
That’s all about to change, however. Spurred by the promise of bigger revenues, the Cherokee people voted “yes” in a ballot measure last Thursday (June 4) that will allow drink sales at the casino. The casino will become the only place on the Cherokee Reservation, known as the Qualla Boundary, where beer, wine or liquor can be sold or served.
Nearly 50 percent of registered voters turned out to cast ballots in the monumental election. It passed comfortably with a vote of 1,847 to 1,301. The vote was held in conjunction with a primary election for tribal council seats.
Not all casino patrons are chomping at the bit to drink, however. Wanda Thurman, a regular at Harrah’s from North Georgia, said she liked the fact it doesn’t have alcohol.
“I’ve been at ones that drink and ones that don’t, and I’d rather be at one that doesn’t,” Thurman said. It’s irritating to have a drunk player beside you, especially if they keep slumping into you, Thurman said.
Bruce Cramond makes the trip to Harrah’s from Waynesville almost every week to play at the blackjack table, but said he would never drink when gambling.
As for why, “Why do you think?” he said. “If I’m eating, I would like to have a drink with a meal, but not while I’m gambling.”
Cramond knows he’s not the norm, however. He’s taken women to Harrah’s on dates who won’t come back because there’s nothing to drink.
“I do know a lot of people who don’t come here because they can’t drink,” Cramond said. “A lot.”
The casino hopes to roll out alcohol as soon as it can.
“I am hoping within the next six months, but that is a wild guess,” said Norma Moss, director of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise.
Many of the casino’s patrons are within a three-hour drive and venture to Cherokee for a daytrip. That could change if alcohol was an option.
“People would stay overnight more,” said Moutray, who often drives home after a day of playing but would stay over if she was drinking.
The casino hotel is frequently booked solid as it is, however. That means the addition of alcohol could be good news for nearby hotels that capture spillover from the casino.
The casino offers complimentary rooms to high rollers and frequent players, but often runs out of room even for them. So the casino books blocks of rooms at partnering hotels, shelling out the cost of rooms to put the players up, albeit off-site. Last year, the casino bought thousands of rooms directly from local hotels to house players, not to mention the business neighboring hotels garner from run-of-the-mill casino traffic.
The need for more hotel rooms has been a major driver of expansions at the casino in recent years. No sooner had the casino built a second hotel tower than it announced plans for a third, which is currently under construction and will double the number of rooms to more than 1,000 hotel rooms.
Casino profits have been vulnerable during the recession. Projected casino revenue for the tribe this year is $223 million, down from $244 million last year. One regular player at Harrah’s, Sandra Tankersley from Chatsworth, Ga., said she used to make a daytrip here every week or two, but has cut back to every other month.
“We’ve slowed down,” Tankersley said.
The tribe splits its cut of casino profits into two equal pots. One goes toward tribal government to pay for everything from education to health care to cultural preservation programs. The other pot is paid out to tribal members twice a year in the form of “per capita” checks. Payments amounted to $8,800 each for the tribe’s 13,500 members last year.
The first “per capita” check for 2009 was issued last Monday. It was $500 less than the “per capita” check tribal members got in December. The alcohol vote came just three days later, and the thought of dwindling “per capita” checks was fresh on everyone’s mind. It proved opportune timing for supporters of the measure.
“If people see money, it will pass,” said Chip Climbingbear when asked for his opinion on the vote before ballots came in Thursday.
But clearly not all tribal members were motivated by the prospect of bigger “per capita” checks or more government programs. Elvia Walkingstick, who works as a waitress at a casino restaurant, voted “no” — even though she stands to get bigger tips if alcohol is on the menu.
“It would be nice, but not at that cost,” Walkingstick said. She cited the historical issues with Native Americans and alcohol.
“It’s already a problem to begin with,” Walkingstick said. “It doesn’t make sense to add fuel to the fire.”
The biggest driver among those opposing the measure was religion more so than cultural issues over alcohol.
“My Baptist faith comes before my culture,” said Donna Morgan, a tribal member who voted “no” for the measure at the Yellow Hill precinct.
Alcohol is often a factor in domestic violence, child abuse and child neglect. It causes car accidents, creates performance issues in the workplace and sets the stage for drug addictions.
While alcohol plays an undeniable role in social ills, supporters claim drink sales at the casino won’t have an impact on the local population, however. Locals choosing to imbibe, whether it’s one drink or a dozen, will continue frequenting the liquor store and gas stations in Bryson City or elsewhere to pick up their goods.
Several voters interviewed after exiting the polls Thursday said the only reason they voted for the measure was because it was restricted to the casino. If the vote was over alcohol reservation-wide, they said they would have voted no. The casino will sell drinks to be consumed on casino property only.
It could be just a matter of time now until restaurants and stores elsewhere on the reservation begin selling alcohol, however. Being able to serve alcohol gives the casino an advantage over other restaurants and stores, say some. A petition citing the “unfair business competition” is already circulating as potential fodder for a legal challenge calling for alcohol sales to be extended to other businesses.
It would certainly make life easier for Shelly McMillan, a clerk at River Valley Store in Big Cove, if she could sell six packs. Tourists staying at one of several nearby campgrounds often come in to buy beer, only to learn the closest place to do so is a 40-minute round trip into Bryson City.
Last week’s vote landed on the ballot thanks to a petition drive by Cherokee voters. Tribal council was narrowly split on whether to hold a referendum on alcohol and was unable to override a veto of the issue by Chief Michell Hicks. So supporters took matters into their own hands with a petition drive that garnered more than 1,500 signatures, enough to bring the issue to a vote.
Perry Schell, a tribal council member from Big Cove, had supported the vote.
“I think people should have the right to vote,” Shell said. “I’ve lost some support over that but I feel like the tribe will make a decision about what’s best for them.”
It has been widely reported that drink sales at the casino, along with a major expansions underway, could lead to an increase of $9,000 a year in per capita payments to tribal members by 2015, according to estimates put out by the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise. With current per capita payments hovering around $8,000, tribal members widely thought that their payments would more than double.
But that is not the case. The TCGE estimates instead show tribal members would get an additional $9,000 cumulatively over the next six years. The annual increases in per capita payments would average between $1,000 and $1,500 a year, adding up to net gain of $9,000 per tribal member by 2015.
On June 4, members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will go to the polls to cast their vote on the most controversial issue that has faced the tribe in recent history — whether to allow alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
The vote is a historic one, marking the first time in more than a decade tribal members will go to the polls to weigh in on whether beer, wine and liquor can be sold on the Qualla Boundary.
A vote on alcohol sales was soundly defeated in 1992. But over the past decade — since the arrival of the casino and a monetary motivation — tribal leaders have toyed with the idea of allowing alcohol sales within the casino only but not the reservation at large.
It made the hot-button issue more palatable, but tribal leaders still stopped short of holding a referendum until citizens themselves pushed the measure onto the ballot with a petition.
The issue remains a divisive one among tribal members. In the weeks leading up to the vote, groups for and against the vote are busy mailing out flyers, putting up billboards and giving speeches to bolster their case.
Two main groups have emerged to campaign in the debate over the alcohol vote. The opposition is composed primarily of a coalition of the 20-some Baptist churches in Cherokee who are staunchly opposed to the consumption of alcohol in all cases.
“I’d be fine if they have prohibition all across the nation again,” said Bo Parris, pastor at Cherokee Missionary Baptist Church. “I promote abstinence from alcohol.”
A second group made up of supporters of the measure contends that alcohol at the casino is strictly a business decision that will help increase revenues that benefit the tribe.
“We think it’s definitely the right thing for business,” said Norma Moss, head of the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise, which directs and guides tribal casino operations. “It’s a business decision, not a moral decision.”
Since it was constructed just over ten years ago, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino has been a boon to the tribe. Casino revenues have helped the Eastern Band, once considered the poorest population in the region, to build schools, a hospital, and housing for tribal members.
But casino profits are waning with the recession. The tribe received a total $223 million from the casino in 2009, down from $244 million in 2008.
Supporters of the upcoming referendum say the addition of alcohol is crucial to attracting new customers and keeping casino profits up. Harrah’s Cherokee is the only casino in the Harrah’s chain that doesn’t sell alcohol.
“Alcohol is very much a part of the business model for casinos, and if you’re going to make a casino as successful as it might be, then you need to provide alcohol,” said Don Rose, chairman of the petition committee that helped get the referendum on the ballot and a tribal council candidate.
Rose says alcohol is needed to keep the casino competitive with others in the region.
“In business you either go up or down — you don’t stand still,” Rose said.
The tribe is working to increase the casino’s viability with a $633 million expansion currently underway. The expansion will add world class restaurants, shopping, and a spa, as well as double the number of hotel rooms and the size of the gaming floor.
“As we build our expansion, our goal is to become a resort, and we want to attract more destination gamers,” Moss said.
But a true resort, Rose argues, provides all the amenities a traveler is looking for, including alcohol. Studies have shown that for destination gamers in particular, the availability of alcohol is important. Seventy-three percent of destination gamers consume alcohol.
“For destination gamers that travel to resorts, that are loyal to properties, the lack of alcohol is an issue,” Moss said. “Our ability to sell alcohol enhances our image as a destination resort. We’re really excited about the products we’re going to have if we have alcohol. It opens up new possibilities for us to be able to offer something different to the customer.”
Casino officials hope the availability of alcohol would increase the casino’s customer base, and attract not just gamblers, but large conventions as well.
All told, new customers could increase casino profits by a minimum of $44 million, and as much as $70 million, each year, Moss said.
The casino’s multi-million dollar expansion will definitely increase casino revenues all on its own, even without alcohol, Moss said. But alcohol would provide a way to increase profits without putting up a large amount of capital.
“The investment of capital that we’re putting into the master plan project is significant,” Moss said. “What we will put into putting alcohol in place, if it’s passed, is a small amount of capital for a big return.”
Opponents of the alcohol referendum say their fear is that the vote will open the door to allowing alcohol elsewhere on the reservation.
“I don’t think it will stop at the casino,” said Ed Kilgore, pastor of Acquoni Baptist Church.
Moss wonders how many restaurants on the reservation would want to serve alcohol.
“I don’t know how many businesses would actually be interested in serving alcohol,” said Moss. “Our number of restaurants in Cherokee is somewhat limited.”
But some business owners beg to differ.
“Why should the casino have it and not restaurants?” questioned Jenean Hornbuckle, who, along with her husband, runs the Cherokee Motel, which sits directly across from the casino. Hornbuckle fears allowing alcohol exclusively at the casino will create unfair competition for small business owners who can’t offer it.
Whether casino profits are up or down has a direct impact on tribal members and the services they receive from the tribe. Of the revenues the tribe receives from the casino, 50 percent fund tribal government and services. The other 50 percent is split among individual tribal members in the form of two “per capita” checks each year.
Per capita payments could prove the biggest motivator when members of the Eastern Band cast their votes next week. The first of two per capita checks this year will be distributed June 1, just three days before the alcohol referendum. The first check is in the amount of $3,892 — smaller than last year’s two payments, which averaged about $4,390 each.
Supporters of the alcohol referendum are using the smaller per capita amount to sway voters.
“We point out that the per capita is less than it was last year,” Rose said. “If we had alcohol, that would not have been the case.”
So will per capita checks really have an impact on how tribal members vote? Rose thinks so.
“I think that if this one did go down, they’re fearful that the next one will be less,” Rose said. “I think it will be a substantial impact on decision making.”
Moss and the TCGE have predicted that if alcohol is added to the casino, per capita payments will increase by about $9,000 per person by 2015.
Parris and others who oppose the measure are less optimistic about promises of increased revenues due to alcohol. Parris points out that casino revenues nationwide have plummeted in the wake of the recession.
“We don’t believe that the sale of alcohol would boost the money that comes in,” Parris said. “Casinos across the country are having trouble. The whole country in general is having trouble.”
Nonetheless, Parris concedes that the promise of larger per capita payments will sway tribal members to vote in favor of the measure.
Besides per capita payments, the idea of maintaining and growing tribal services could also convince people to vote for the alcohol referendum.
“We have basically on the reservation a one-trick pony called the casino, and it’s been terrifically successful,” said Rose. “As a result of that success we’ve entered into programs dependent on the casino revenue stream, things like infrastructure, water and sewer, housing and education for the children.”
But Kilgore said referendum supporters can’t prove that tribal services will benefit from the measure.
“Are they willing to put in writing a guarantee?” asked Kilgore. “No, because they have no idea. Implying that is a smoke promise. It’s not a valid argument, because it’s not proven.”
What Kilgore and others in the opposition camp do say is proven is the negative affect alcohol will have, and already has had, on the tribe. Historically, alcoholism has affected a disproportionate number of Native Americans, and those who oppose the measure say the Cherokee are no different.
“The Cherokee people have over the years had a real problem with alcohol,” said Kilgore, who has experienced firsthand the devastating affects of alcoholism.
“As a former foster parent, I’ve dealt with children that have had to be removed from their homes because of alcohol abuse,” Kilgore said. “I have listened to these children lie in bed at night, crying out for their parents.”
Alcoholism, “effects the individual, their families, and the community as a whole,” Parris said. “Alcohol is a drug, and divorce in families and family abuse goes with it; even killings in the past.”
Supporters of the measure like Rose acknowledge that increased use of alcohol can contribute to those things, but disagree that allowing alcohol at the casino will lead to divorce, abuse or murder.
“Will selling alcohol by the drink in the Cherokee casino increase the consumption of alcohol and cause those things? The answer is absolutely not,” Rose said. “For one thing, alcohol is already there. Secondly, the local people are not going to go to the casino and pay $7 for a drink, when you can get a bottle for that amount in Bryson City (the location of the nearest ABC store).”
Moss said tribal members aren’t the casino’s targeted customers anyway.
“We are not marketing alcohol to tribal members, we’re marketing to our customer base,” Moss said. “It’s an extremely low percentage of tribal members that visit the casino. Very, very low.”
After months of tense debate, the decision of whether to allow alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino will be left in the hands of voters June 4. The referendum requires a turnout of more than 30 percent of registered voters, and needs a majority vote to pass.
Both sides of the issue are hopeful, but somewhat hesitant to predict the outcome.
“I’m cautiously optimistic about the results,” Rose said. “My feeling is that people are recognizing the downturn in the economy and the potential impact on the tribe to continue the services it’s providing and the amount of per capita. A lot of people are saying I’m not in favor, but the greater good will be served.”
Kilgore said he’ll really only know where the tribe stands when all the votes are totaled.
“It’s very difficult to gauge because you will not really know where people stand until they mark their ballot,” Kilgore said. “But I feel very good that the Lord is going to give us a victory.”
A vote by the Cherokee people on whether to allow alcohol sales has been a long time coming. The last one was held in 1992, but has been toyed with several times since then.
1980: A vote on whether to allow alcohol sales on the reservation was defeated 2 to 1.
1992: A vote on whether to allow alcohol sales on the reservation was defeated 1,532 to 601.
1999: Patrick Lambert, head of the gaming commission, convinced tribal council to hold a referendum on alcohol sales. A groundswell of opposition spurred council members to cancel the referendum before it could be held.
2006: The Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise appeared before tribal council and asked them to hold a referendum on alcohol sales at the casino. Opposition swiftly mounted a campaign. TCGE withdrew their request before tribal council had a chance to vote on it.
2008: The Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise appeared before tribal council and asked them to hold a tribal referendum on allowing alcohol sales at the casino only. It narrowly passed tribal council, but was vetoed by Chief Michell Hicks.
2009: Supporters of a referendum submit a petition with 1,562 signatures. The petition met the threshold for putting the measure on the ballot for a vote.
After years of grappling with the controversial issue of alcohol sales on tribal land, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will vote on June 4 whether to allow the sale of alcohol at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
If voters approve the measure, alcohol will be sold only at the casino. The rest of tribal land, known as the Qualla Boundary, will continue to by dry, with the sale of beer, wine or liquor banned in all other stores or restaurants.
In recent months, a petition gathered enough signatures to force the measure to be put on the ballot. Before a vote could be scheduled, however, the Tribal Council had to pass a resolution directing the elections board to hold the election. The Tribal Council did so this month.
The Tribal Council’s passing of the resolution is basically a technicality, but the council could have voted it down and stopped the election despite the petition signatures.
Alcohol is a sensitive cultural, religious and political issue for the Cherokee. Despite a push among some over the years to allow alcohol sales, political leaders have avoided voting on the issue themselves, and until recently were even reluctant to give their blessing to a referendum.
Last summer the Tribal Council narrowly voted to allow a referendum to decide whether alcohol should be sold at the casino, but Chief Michel Hicks vetoed it, saying alcohol dishonors the Cherokee forefathers.
However, Hicks said he would not veto the referendum this time since the people have spoken in favor of having an election. There were 1,875 tribal members who signed the petition.
Despite the negative connotations of alcohol for Native Americans, allowing sales at the casino would obviously increase revenues. Casino revenues are used to support tribal operations, from education to health care. A portion is also split among all tribal members in the form of twice annual checks.
With the casino business suffering slightly from the recession, checks are expected to be down. The alcohol vote will be held the same week those checks come out, so the issue will be at the forefront.
By Jennifer Garlesky • Staff Writer
Restaurant patrons in Highlands will soon be able to sip on rum and coke while eating a steak or order a pitcher of beer while eating pizza now that citizens voted “yes” to an alcohol referendum.
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
The Franklin Board of Elections went to work Tuesday morning (Aug. 1) to certify results of a referendum in which voters passed beer and liquor sales, opening the door for local businesses to begin submitting permit applications to the North Carolina Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Franklin voters approved the sale of mixed drinks and beer in a vote held last week. Few were surprised the measure passed. In truth, few seem to care too much.
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
This summer residents of Franklin will vote on whether to allow restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages, following a town board decision to hold a referendum on the issue.