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South Carolina potentially loses out on Catawba casino deal

South Carolina landowners allegedly made the sale of land near the York County reservation too expensive or impossible, causing the Catawba Indian Nation to move their $600 million casino idea to North Carolina. The nation's chief stated that private landholders who owned parcels around the 1,006-acre reservation refused to sell land or would not make reasonable offers. According to an announcement made by the tribe in September 2013, the Catawbas are attempting to build a casino that would create 5,000 jobs in the area. Many county officials in North Carolina support the plan, but Governor McCrory opposes the project.

The new proposed casino site is in Cleveland County, North Carolina, around 40 miles north of the original location that the Catawbas sought. The Indian Nation has a purchase agreement with a man that previously owned a fuel station for trucks near the new 15.6-acre site. An environmental assessment stated that the new land does not have any environmental problems.

A treaty established in 1993 listed the Catawba tribe as the only federally recognized Native American group in South Carolina. The treaty requires that titles for land bought by Catawbas must indicate that the land is held by the U.S. Secretary of the Interior. The land is then held "in trust for the tribe." Many argue that this is an unfair deal for the Indian Nation.

It's arguable whether the South Carolina economy has missed a big opportunity due to the refusal to sell land to the tribe. The 1993 treaty may also be seen as a detriment to any developments that the Catawbas may pursue in the future. New casinos are often controversial, but the politics surrounding this recent plan might be cause for South Carolina lawmakers and landholders to reexamine how the Catawbas are treated in the state.

Source: Charlotte Business Journal, "Catawbas first looked for York County land before launching NC casino idea" Ken Elkins, Jan. 07, 2014

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