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Cherokee petition closes in on alcohol vote

Organizers of a petition drive in Cherokee believe they have enough signatures to force a referendum by voters on whether alcohol sales should be allowed at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

Don Rose, a volunteer with the committee that circulated the petition, said 1,534 signatures, or 25 percent of the tribe’s registered voters, are needed to get the measure on the ballot for a public vote.

Rose said the Petitioners Committee gathered 1,875 signatures — 341 more than required — in case some didn’t count. The Board of Elections has to verify the signatures to ensure those who signed the petition are registered voters and enrolled members of the tribe, said Rose.

As of press time Tuesday (Dec. 16), Rose said the Board of Elections had verified 1,487 of the signatures. Rose said the Board of Elections still had about 100 signatures it had not looked at yet, so it is likely there will be enough verified signatures.

“We’ve got enough now to meet the required number once we go through the ones we haven’t looked at,” Rose said.

Staff at Cherokee Board of Elections office declined comment.

Alcohol sales are banned on the Reservation but some believe alcohol should at least be legal at the casino.

Once the signatures are verified the Tribal Council must pass a resolution directing the Board of Elections to hold the referendum, Rose said.

The chief can still prevent the election from taking place by vetoing the referendum, Rose said. But Rose doesn’t think the chief will stop the election, because it is the will of the people.

If the chief does not veto, the election must be held within 90 days of the chief’s signing the resolution, Rose said.

Cherokee Principal Chief Michell Hicks in August vetoed the Tribal Council’s 7-3 vote to allow the alcohol issue to be put on the ballot. (One council member abstained from the vote and one was absent.)

The council couldn’t override the chief’s veto because it didn’t have a two-thirds majority.

Rose said the election might be scheduled in June during the primary election to prevent the costs of having two separate elections.

Chairwoman of the Tribal Gaming Casino Enterprise Norma Moss has said that allowing alcohol sales at the casino would generate an additional $40 million to $70 million annually.

If alcohol was sold at the casino the tribal members would receive larger per capita checks because half of the casino’s profits are distributed amongst the tribe’s members.

According to Harrah’s Cherokee Casino spokesman Charles Pringle, revenue was down 1 percent for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 compared to the previous fiscal year.

He said the income for the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 was 5 percent less than what the casino anticipated.

Pringle did not have specific revenue figures.

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