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Cherokee to pursue new casino project

Cherokee to pursue new casino project

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will pursue a new casino project in partnership with a publicly traded gaming company, following a vote during Tribal Council Thursday, May 6. 

The resolution, submitted by Principal Chief Richard Sneed, gives little specific information about the project. Dubbed “Project Commonwealth,” it will be a partnership with a company with which the tribe has had a “long-standing relationship” and result in new gaming opportunities “within a certain proximity” of existing casinos in Cherokee and Murphy. 

The name “Project Commonwealth” indicates the location may be in Virginia, whose nickname is The Commonwealth State. This would fit the same naming pattern the tribe used when it dubbed its commercial gaming enterprise purchase in Indiana “Project Hoosier.” 

The Cherokee and the unnamed publicly traded gaming company have been in discussions about developing a casino together, and the next step is for the tribe to present a proposal containing additional details about the potential endeavor — the resolution passed last week authorizes the communication of that proposal. 

The topics and parameters to be addressed are laid out in an eight-point list contained within the resolution. 

In addition to choosing the name “Project Commonwealth,” the proposal states that the tribe would use its commercial gaming company, EBCI Holdings LLC, to create a joint venture with the partner company. The tribe would have a “large” equity stake in the project, which would be a greenfield project requiring the construction and ownership of a new facility. Completing it would require debt financing, the terms of which are still being developed. 

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The partner company would manage the operation for at least five years, but EBCI Holdings would hold call rights to buy it out in five to seven years after it opens to the public. The projects and properties involved would be wholly owned and operated by the tribe through EBCI Holdings. 

Before discussing the proposal, Tribal Council stopped broadcasting the meeting, though it kept the proceedings open those in physical attendance. 

“I don’t want everyone who’s tuned in states away to know what we’re doing, but I want our local people to know what we’re doing,” said Painttown Representative Dike Sneed.

The resolution stresses the need for a “circumspect discussion” until the time comes for a public announcement. This is due to federal laws regarding publicly traded companies that “prohibit the public communication of certain financial information and opportunities regarding the company to avoid prohibited behavior, such as insider trading,” as well as “the Tribe’s own concerns about publishing its business plans.”

Nine of the 12 Council members voted in favor of Sneed’s move to take the discussion off-air, with Birdtown Representative Albert Rose, Wolfetown Representative Chelsea Saunooke and Yellowhill Representative Tom Wahnetah opposing it. 

After a nine-minute discussion, the body came back on air and voted 10-2 to pass the resolution, with Wahneta and Wolfetown Representative Bo Crowe opposing the move. No discussion accompanied the vote. 

This is the second commercial gaming endeavor currently underway under the auspices of the EBCI. In December, Tribal Council a $250 million deal to purchase the gaming operation — though not the property — at Caesars Southern Indiana Casino. That deal is set to close this summer. 

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