Perdue commended the tribe and state leaders for a “job well done,” recalling when the subject of live gaming first came up in the 1990s.
“We understood that something could happen here that would be magic,” Perdue said. “It wasn’t about live gambling; it was about economic development.”
As a result of the live gaming, Harrah’s casino plans to go from 2,100 to 2,600 employees and hopes to increase visitation from 3.6 million to 4 million within the first year. Live gaming is the cherry on top of a $633-million remodel and expansion of the casino.
“In a hundred years, people will walk through this casino and what will it look like then?” Perdue said of the casino’s growth potential.
After years of attempting to reach an agreement with the state to allow live dealers, real cards and table games, Principal Chief Michell Hicks was simply happy to take a breath.
“It’s been a long journey, and I guess I have been waiting for this day to take a deep breath,” Hicks said. “I am very proud.”
The tribe was previously restricted to electronic and video-based gambling. It lobbied the state for years to lift the cap on the type of gaming operations it had, but reached an impasse with former Gov. Mike Easley.
That impasse was broken when Perdue took office and proved a critical part of the creation of a gaming compact between the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Her office and tribal leaders held talks for months trying to reach an amenable agreement.
The tribe has to give up a slice of its revenue in exchange for live gaming, such as blackjack and roulette, and the ability to extend credit to high rollers. The state’s share of casino revenue is from the new table games only and is based on a sliding scale — starting at 4 percent the first few years and maxing out at 8 percent over the next 30 years.
The Eastern Band has worked since the early 2000s to get the state’s John Hancock on a live gaming compact, and its dream finally came true this June when the state General Assembly approved the agreement.
The addition of live table games is expected to attract a new clientele and, in turn, more money and jobs flowing through the entire region.
The casino put out a wide-reaching call for experienced and novice card dealers earlier this summer.
The expansion by Harrah’s Casino and Hotel included a third hotel tower, a new entrance to the casino and a suite of new restaurants, dining spots, bars and lounges, including a Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. It also built a major new entertainment venue, and will soon add a spa. It also did a major expansion of the gaming floors.