Author Archives: joseph

Virginia To See Expansion of Slot Machines

Rosie’s Gaming will be opening its latest slot machine parlor in the town of Dumfries in southern Prince William County. The facility will host over 100 machines and marks a continued expansion of gambling in the state.

The machines are know as historic horse racing slots. They function exactly the same as traditional slot machines with the same look and feel as those on the Vegas strip. The odds and results however, are based on the outcomes of old horse races. The terminals offer a rarely used feature which allows users to wager based on stats of the horses’ odds and previous results.

Gambling expansion in Virginia has had a tough time getting a foothold. Voters in the state have long rejected the practice. However, the Virginia State Legislature approved the use of such slot machines and since 2018, they have seen a steady rise in popularity. The slot terminals at Rosie’s are operated by the same company that is currently running slot machines at Colonial Downs racetrack located in New Kent County and a portion of those proceeds are devoted to the purses for races at Colonial Downs as a way to boost the horse racing industry in Virginia. Gamblers in the state have responded positively to the machines in places where they are active. At Colonial Downs off of Midlothian Turnpike in Richmond as well as in Winton and Hampton, patrons have helped make the HHR slots a Virginia success story. Revenues are up and in November the machines paid out total winnings of $155 million of roughly $170 million wagered.

Competition Abounds

This is an encouraging sign for Rosie’s which will face top competition from larger casinos in the area. Currently, Virginia residents can travel a short distance across the Potomac River to MGM National Harbor. Located in Maryland, it is one of the biggest casinos on the east coast. Alternatively, patrons can travel to West Virginia to place their wagers at the Hollywood Casino at the Charles Town racetrack. Both locations are a short travel distance for Northern Virginia residents and offer additional casino amenities such as table games.

Rosie’s will see increased competition in the coming months as well. The Virginia Lottery is set to approve a number of commercial licenses for online sports betting. In addition, four other Virginia cities have voted to open new casinos which are expected to launch in the next few years.

Optimistic Outlook

Management of Rosie’s is confident that they will be able to offer Virginians an enticing gambling location. Rick Casagrande is the general manger for Rosie’s Dunfries location. “In every jurisdiction, the people that come out are looking for an entertainment option that’s clean, safe, and friendly. And we provide that,” he said.

Mayor of Dunfries, Derrick Wood, and other town officials took a tour of the new facility as the final slot terminals arrived and the finishing touches were added. Wood stated that he was impressed with the effort Rosie’s is making. He is also optimistic for what the facility will do for the community. Rosie’s will be hiring over 100 local residents at $15 per hour and has made substantial commitments to assist local groups like the Boys and Girls Club.

In 2019 voters in Dunfries passed gambling 468 to 306. Mayor Wood suspects that those opposed to the expansion will remain so despite the new Rosie’s facility. “Everybody ain’t gonna like you, everybody ain’t gonna like me, and everybody ain’t gonna like every business that comes to town,” he said. However, some opponents could be won over as they start to see the improvements that Rosie’s plans to bring to the town he said. Rosie’s will be the biggest employer to establish itself in town in a few years. Conservative estimates place increases in revenue to the town at roughly 20% to start. “Dunfries has always been a place people drive through. Now we are trying to create a sense of destination,” says Wood.

Senator Scott Surovell has supported the town’s plan to bring Rosie’s Gaming to Dunfries. He stated that while he does not personally gamble, he is excited at the prospect of keeping gamblers in the state. “From where I live, I can walk a few blocks and look out over the Potomac and see $150 million in Virginia money going across the bridge. I’ve always said I’d be supportive of keeping Virginia’s money here in a responsible way.”

Native American Casinos Remain Open In California Despite Pandemic Lockdowns

Despite shutdowns in many different industries across the state, Native American casinos in Southern California are able to stay open to patrons. This past week, the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indian Casino in Rancho Mirage was open and bustling with customers playing a wide variety of games and enjoying the facility’s many dining options.

Casinos Remain Open

The Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, located in Cabazon, was running several dining promotions in celebration of its 16th anniversary. In Highland, the San Manuel Casino stated on its social media platforms that it had decided to stay open and felt confidently that the decision was the right one in light of the safety protocols it had in place. The Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio went as far as to continue to host live outdoor music despite live music events being restricted throughout the country.

The decision to enact the latest round of Covid-19 related shutdowns in California have come due to the severe increase in infections and the low capacities in the state’s intensive care units. The new order, in effect for a three-week period, will cover most of the lower half of California. Californians are prohibited from any gatherings. Grocery stores in the state will be reduced to a 35% capacity. Restaurants and bars are forced to shutter their doors. In addition, churches will be forced to conduct their services outside.

However, as sovereign nations, Native American tribes are not legally required to adhere to the California stay at home order.

Indoor Congregation Equals a Hotspot

The state has seen six individual outbreaks of cases occurring at the Riverside County casinos and officials confirmed that the highest numbers of outbreaks locally have come from grocery stores where people are most likely to congregate. But experts in the health industry have expressed concern over the continued operation of casinos. “In my opinion, any crowded indoor activity is a terrible idea at this point,” says Juliet Morrison, a virologist at the University of California Riverside. She went one, “we are in a pandemic, and we are already seeing new and higher cases of Covid-19. So I don’t think they should be open at all.”

Clifford Trafzer is a professor of American Indian Affairs at the University of California Riverside and agrees with Morrison about the severity of keeping casinos open. “I believe in tribal sovereignty; I also believe all people of the United States have a civic duty to join in the nationwide fight against Covid-19. This is a war against a virus and every citizen must do their part to fight our common enemy.”

Varied Approaches

Earlier this year, as the pandemic made its first sweep across the southern California region, all of the state’s tribal casinos participated in the voluntary shutdowns. Many expressed a willingness to help stop the spread of the virus despite the potentially crippling fallout of a lengthy shutdown. However, since reopening, each of the state’s tribal casinos has taken a varied approach to health and public safety protocols.

The Agua Caliente Rancho Mirage has elected to continue to open its spacious, outdoor function area for private events and meetings. The East Valley Republican Women Federated hosted a lunch there in early November and then an election night party as well.

Fantasy Springs, owned by the Cabazon Band of Mission Indians, has hosted live concerts several nights a week, albeit with mask and social distancing protocols in place. In addition, the casino and concert venue have instituted a 50% capacity restriction. Fantasy Springs also opened their special event center to be used as a Covid-19 testing site. AS such, all of the casino’s employees have been tested weekly for the virus. “The Cabazon Band of Mission Indians enjoys sovereignty, just like all tribes do,” says Michael Felci, the Public Relations Manager for the casino. “However, our guests, our employees are obviously the most important thing – their health, their safety. So we’re following the news, we’re getting the latest reports just like everybody else. Everything we’ve seen up until this point has not looked promising for large indoor gatherings.”

A Regulatory Framework

The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act sets a “public health and safety” requirement to every tribal gaming ordinance enacted by a tribe. The National Indian Gaming Commission will not approve a casino’s ordinance unless a health and safety provision is included. Meaning that there are “health and safety standards that the tribal casino and management must adhere to,” says Michael Anderson, founder of Anderson Indian Law located in Washington D.C. and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs at the Department of Interior. “But there’s essentially no role from the state of California in regulating that conduct.”

As a federal agency, should the operation of a gaming facility threaten public health and safety, the National Indian Gaming Commission has the authority to issue a temporary shutdown order to the facility. During the current Covid-19 pandemic, the NIGC has issued guidelines for tribal casinos in line with current CDC recommendations for safe operation of business.

Katherine Spilde is a professor and chair of the Sycuan Institute on Tribal Gaming at San Diego State University. She has continually held that tribal governments are just as concerned with protecting public health and safety as all other levels of government. “Tribal governments have the same public health mandates that any government would have, which would be to protect their citizens and residents, protect their employees who come to work at their properties, and to, of course, protect guests who come to have an experience in Indian Country.”

Time will tell if the recent outbreaks and continued rise in cases of Covid-19 in the state of California will force tribal governments to take more drastic action.

Arkansas Casinos Are Exempt From New Health Restrictions

Governor Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas has issued new health restrictions in relation to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. The health restrictions stipulate that bars, restaurants, and other locations with licenses to distribute alcohol are required to close no later than 11 pm. This order will be in effect through January 3 and the hope is that this curfew on alcohol will help to stop the spread of coronavirus in the state.

But not for Casinos

Thankfully, to many of Arkansas residents, the health restrictions will not extend to casinos. According to the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration casinos will continue to be allowed to function from 9 am to 2 am in accordance with the health order issued last May. Industry leaders were also happy to hear the news of this exclusion.

Carlton Saffa is the Chief Market Officer at the Saracen Casino Resort. According to him, the exclusion of casinos from this recent health related order was not a mistake nor an oversight. “We are licensed as a casino,” said Saffa. “Obviously, we’re inclusive of some subsets of hospitality but this property is a gaming facility, just like Oaklawn and just like Southland. Since the onset of Covid-19 and the government’s first reactions to it, casinos have been regulated uniquely, and we should be.” The Department of Finance has issued guidance that confirms this opinion.

Amendment 100 to the Arkansas constitution allowed for the operation of four casinos in the state. According to the text, “Casino licensees shall be permitted to sell intoxicating liquor or provide complimentary servings of intoxicating liquor, only for on-premises consumption at the casinos, during all hours in which the casino licensees conduct casino gaming. To that extent, casino licensees shall not be subject to Ark. Code Ann. §3-3-211, which prohibits the sale of intoxicating liquor on Christmas Day, and Ark. Code Ann. §3-9-201, et seq. and other applicable Arkansas law requiring the residents of a dry county or city to vote to approve the sale of intoxicating liquor.”

Still doing their part

Therefore, casinos fall outside of the purview of the recent health restrictions. However, Saffa has taken the initiative to assist the state in attempting to stop the spread of Covid-19. The dine-in restaurants at the Saracen Casino will close at 11 pm as will the casino’s bar venues. On the gaming floor, drink service will continue until the casino closes daily operation at 2 am. In addition, all of the other health related measures practiced at large across the country will continue to be observed. Disposable drinkware, social distancing, sanitation stations, and mask requirements will all still be in place. “Outside of that, we’ll continue to do what we have been doing, which is to continue to implement a robust contact tracing protocol. The casino industry has been asked by the state to participate in contact tracing for all patrons, so thousands of people enter this building every day and every one of their IDs are scanned, so we have a running log of who comes in the building,” says Saffa.

Wampanoag Chairman Charged In Casino Bribery Scheme

Cedric Cromwell has been the long-time chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. He has been charged, along with David DeQuattro, in a bribery scheme in relation to the Tribe’s casino development plans. The charge accuses the two of colluding with each other, Cromwell as chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe and DeQuattro as owner of an architecture and design firm, to extort tens of thousands of dollars in exchange for construction contracts.

Both men have plead not guilty to the bribery charges via a video conference held last week. Cromwell has also plead not guilty to the extortion charges. They were both released by a Boston federal court judge on a $25,000 unsecured bond until they appear for their next court date.

The Charges

Prosecutors allege that the two had been working together since at least 2014. Between 2014 and 2017, DeQuattro made payments to Cromwell and provided other benefits totaling roughly $60,000. In return, Cromwell had awarded construction contracts to DeQuattro’s architecture firm worth nearly $5 million. The money is alleged to have been used by Cromwell personally and was accompanied by lavish gifts such as a home gym system and hotel reservations.

United States Attorney for Massachusetts, Andrew Lelling, said, “many American Indians face a host of difficult financial and social issues. They require, and deserve, real leadership. But it appears that Cromwell’s priority was not to serve his people, but to line his own pockets.” Lelling’s office is currently prosecuting the case. According to Cromwell’s lawyer, Timothy Flaherty, he denies any such allegations and added that his client “is a man of principle, a man of faith, and he is a transformational leader.”

The Wampanoag Tribe’s council voted in an emergency meeting on Friday. They voted unanimously to remove Cromwell as the Tribe’s chairman. “We take the charges brought against Cedric Cromwell very seriously. The Tribe’s focus remains on ensuring that our land remains in trust and supporting our tribal sovereignty,” said Jessie Baird, Vice chair for the Tribe’s council.

The Project

The Wampanoag Tribe, located on Cape Cod, traces its lineage back to the Native Americans who shared their fall harvest with the Pilgrims in 1621. In 2007, the Tribe gained federal recognition and was awarded over 300 acres placed into federal trust. This land was declared as a sovereign reservation in 2016 under President Barrack Obama’s administration. The Tribe then moved immediately to break ground on a casino development project in Taunton, Massachusetts, on Boston’s south shore. The Tribe partnered with Genting Group, a casino developer based out of Malaysia to construct the $1 billion First Light Casino.

The project was almost immediately delayed by significant political and legal challenges. Namely, a challenge by President Donald Trump’s administration to take back land designated under the Obama administration. In early 2020, the Federal Bureau of Indian Affairs stated that it intended to rescind the 300 acre tribal reservation and also remove the land under federal trust. In June of this year, a federal judge was able to halt that decision. The judge ordered that the Department of the Interior review the Bureau’s plan and issue any new findings. The Bureau of Indian Affairs has appealed the current ruling.

The Trump administration also fought legislation passed in the House of Representatives, currently led by the Democrats, that sought to protect the Tribe’s reservation. The President has been dismissive of the effort, calling it a “special interest casino bill.” Both the Wampanoag Tribe and others across the country have watched the administrations actions with interest and concern. Many have complained that such decisions set a dangerous precedent and a possible legal means of taking away a tribe’s federally protected lands.

States Across the Union Approve Expansions In Gambling

The gambling industry in the US saw positive results at the polls this November. Three states approved measures authorizing legal sports gambling. In addition, three more states approved and/or expanded their casino gambling market.

Sports Betting

South Dakota, Maryland, and Louisiana authorized ballot measures to introduce sports gambling into their states. With these additions, more than half of the states in America will have some form of legalized sports betting. This is no small feat after less than three years have passed since the US Supreme Court ruled the practice no longer illegal under federal law.

Sports gamblers likely will not be able to place legal bets in their respective states until at least 2021 and possibly into the year 2022. The state legislators in South Dakota, Maryland, and Louisiana are now tasked with creating a legal framework for the industry. The next steps will be rules and a regulatory structure for licensing private operators. Only then will legal sports books start taking their first bets.

Casino Expansions

Virginia

The state of ? Voters in Bristol, Danville, Portsmouth, and Norfolk, Virginia approved measures bringing casino gambling to their communities. “We look forward to fulfilling the trust the voters have placed in us by bringing 1,300 good-paying jobs, tourism dollars and economic development to the city, and we are incredibly excited to begin construction,” said Tom Reeg, Chief Executive Officer of Caesars Entertainment, of the successful Danville proposal.

Colorado

Colorado has expanded the types of games allowed on its casino floors while at the same time eliminating certain limits on wagers. Casinos in Black Hawk, Cripple Creek, and Central City will be introducing new games on their gambling floors. Baccarat, Keno, and a spinning wheel will all be available for state residents to play. In addition, state casinos are eliminating betting limits which restricted maximum bets to $100.

Nebraska

Nebraska authorized a measure which will add casino gambling in its horse tracks. Casino games will be added to horse racing facilities at Horsemen’s Park in Omaha, Lincoln Race Course, Fonner Park in Grand Island, Ag Park in Columbus, and Atokad in South Sioux City. Supporters of the state’s casino expansion say that taxing the industry could add nearly $65 million annually to state coffers. That revenue is slated to go to property tax relief for state residents.

A Positive Future

“It appears that Americans are becoming increasingly comfortable with legalized gambling,” says David Schwartz. Schwartz is a gambling historian at the University of Nevada Las Vegas. He went on, “the addition of casinos in Virginia and racetrack casinos in Nebraska indicates that casino-style gambling is on the upswing as well. We have reached a point where voters seem satisfied that legalizing gambling will offer positive returns for their state.”

Leaders in the country’s gaming industry are optimistic about what these expansions mean for the future of the gambling market. The American Gaming Association is the main trade group for the casino industry. Bill Miller, the AGA’s Chief Executive Officer, praised the decisions of voters in expanding gambling legislation. “As a result of successful ballot measures in six gaming states, more Americans will have access to much needed job opportunities, dedicated tax revenue, and safe, regulated entertainment options closer to home.”

New Live Dealer Games Launch In Pennsylvania

Rush Street Interactive is leading the online gaming market and is set to be the first to launch a Live Dealer Casino in Pennsylvania. Rush Street Interactive operates PlaySugarHouse.com and BetRivers.com. They have now teamed up with a world leader in the live dealer and table games industry, Evolution. The live dealer sector combines the social aspect of betting at a casino with the ease and mobility of gambling from a laptop or smartphone. Evolution will offer patrons in Pennsylvania a competitive mix of live table games such as Blackjack, Roulette, and Slingshot Roulette.

The Live Casino games are operated in real time. Players get to feel the excitement of interacting with the dealer, placing their preferred bet, and watching the table action unfold. Payouts are also calculated in real time giving players a real feel for the pace of play even from their living room.

“Many online players prefer live dealer options because they watch the action as it happens, which gives them a higher level of trust in the outcome,” states Richard Schwartz, President of Rush Street Interactive. “A live dealer game is the closest you can get online to playing in a land-based casino and we’re thrilled to be the first to offer players in Pennsylvania the opportunity to virtually sit and play on Evolution’s world-renowned live tables.” Schwartz went on, “the Evolution hosted Live Dealer Casino has proven very popular with players at PlaySugarHouse.com in New Jersey. We are confident players in Pennsylvania will love these live action table games too. Extending our partnership with Evolution into PA supports our mission to continually offer our loyal online players the best mix of innovative and entertaining games available.”

Perfect Timing For Mobile Options

The expansion into online, Live Dealer Casino play comes at an opportune time. With the health restrictions in place due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many would be casino patrons have decided to avoid the risk and hassle. Many of the nations gambling halls operating at a reduced capacity due to occupancy restrictions. Coupled with the explosion of the online sports betting market and it is not hard to see how Live Dealer Casinos could change the nature of the casino gaming industry.

Johan Nordstrom is the Chief Executive Officer at Malta and the Chief Commercial Officer for Evolution. He stated, “RSI is well established as the #1 online gaming operator in Pennsylvania and we are thrilled to partner with the acclaimed online gaming leader and are confident that the Evolution hosted Live Dealer Casino will be a big hit in this market.” He went on, “on top of an exceptional range of world class live game show style games, classic casino games and exclusive content, we have extensive experience with multiple state of the art Live Casino studios worldwide. At the player interface level, our Blackjack is the fastest, slickest online Live Blackjack available anywhere, so players get more game rounds and exciting play in every gaming session.”

Big Plans For New Mississippi Casino

Plans for the new casino project in Biloxxi, Mississippi were disclosed this past week and they have caused quite a buzz. The project is proposed to cost roughly $1.2 billion in order to bring the UMUSIC Broadwater Hotel and Casino to fruition. This past Thursday, project leaders disclosed a construction timeline and a list of some of the amenities to which patrons can look forward.

Andrew Gilich, Mayor of Biloxi, is confident that the new casino will boost tourism and could bring as much as two million visitors to the city per year. The project is expected to break ground next year and developers hope to have it completed by 2023. Dakia Global U-Ventures has partnered with the largest music company in the world, Universal Music Group to develop the UMUSIC Hotel and Casino project. The pair have plans to bring similar projects to Atlanta, Georgia and Orlando, Florida as well.

What To Expect

Robert Lavia is the Chairman of Dakia Global U-Ventures. He disclosed some of the amenities that visitors can look forward to in the new hotel and casino. The project as a whole will support roughly 1.000 construction jobs and a further 2,500 in permanent positions once the facilities are completed. The hotel will include approximately 1,200 rooms with music themed décor and high-end restaurants. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lavia made a point to highlight the high level of security and health protocols already developed to keep operations at the UMUSIC Resort moving smoothly regardless of what pandemic, if any, may hit in the future. In addition, the facility will host a 12,000-seat entertainment auditorium, an eighteen-hole golf course, and a new marina.

Several details, including plans for the resort’s casino, were purposely withheld says Lavia. Project leaders were eager to release as many details as possible while maintaining a high level of anticipation and surprise amongst future visitors. “Wherever you look, you’ll be wowed,” said Lavia. The music venue looks to be the centerpiece of the hotel. It will feature a grand, high-wind, glass exterior. Inside, the venue will feature a massive video screen, referred to jokingly as “visible for miles.”

An Attractive Location

“Mississippi is the birthplace of America’s music, BB King and the Blues, Elvis and Rock and Roll, Jimmy Rodgers and Country,” says Governor of Mississippi Tate Reeves. He is very optimistic about the coming resort which he says represents the “bold projects” Mississippi needs. According to him, the UMUSIC Hotel and Casino represents an investment in the state’s people and future.

When asked why Biloxi was chosen for the first UMUSIC location, Robert Lavia echoed the sentiments of Governor Reeves and said, “[because of] the rich, powerful music that has come from the region.” He went on, “our intention is to create a world class facility to bring some of the greatest talent, both regionally and internationally.” The resort is being designed to attract big name talents with state-of-the-art technologies like holograms and artificial intelligence. In addition, these technologies will be available for hopeful music talents through a proposed incubator program. This program will help to elevate local musicians, sound engineers, and start up companies in the musical field.

The passion that the project heads feel for the local community and Mississippi at large was summed up by Mr. Lavia. “From the minute you step in Biloxi you feel at home. That warmth, that welcoming feeling is what both our national and international guests want to discover here.”

Roulette Wheels Spin Again in Massachusetts

The game of roulette has returned to Massachusetts casinos. However, in light of the Covid-19 pandemic, strict guidelines of play will be enforced. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission ruled on the reintroduction of roulette in a meeting this past week. The decision was to allow roulette to return on the gaming floor with the addition of a number of changes to the rules of the game in order to limit patron contact. The Commission approved roulette at the MGM Springfield and Encore Boston Harbor.

The Commission allowed Massachusetts casinos to reopen in July. While most games were live, poker, craps, and roulette were not allowed back on gaming floors. According to Loretta Lillios, Interim Director of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission’s Investigation and Enforcement Bureau, both the MGM and Encore made requests to the Commission to reintroduce the games after three months of safe casino operation.

“We have worked with them to identify health and safety measures that could be implemented with roulette and in doing so we tried to hew closely to the measures that the commission already approved for the blackjack-style games,” said Lillios. “One of our obligations with a request like this is that we consult with the Department of Public Health and the department raised no objections to the reintroduction of the game and it communicated that it is comfortable doing so in conjunction with the minimum safety measures outlined here.”

The Department of Public Health also considered the fact that roulette is offered in casinos in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. That means that Massachusetts residents do not have to travel far from their home state in order to play the game.

New Rules Being Introduced

In order to offer roulette, the casinos must adhere to a set of safety guidelines set forth by the commission. Roulette will be cap at a maximum of three players. Each player will be required to be seated and will be separated by plexiglass. Bystanders will not be permitted to stand around the table and spectate. Encore will offer 16 roulette tables and MGM will be permitted to offer seven tables. However, neither casino will be permitted to raise their occupancy limit with the addition of the game.

Another significant rule change will be a prohibition on bets placed once the ball is in motion. According to Bruce Band, Assistant Director of the Investigation and Enforcement Bureau, classic roulette depends upon the dealer’s ability to hear and process verbal bets once the ball is placed in motion. With the Covid-19 health precautions, namely masks and plexiglass, the commission was concerned this would make verbal bets more difficult. Therefore, the decision was reached to simply eliminate these types of bets for the time being.

Commissioners took a positive stance on reintroducing the game. “I think we now have a history of watching our licensees and patron compliance,” said Commissioner Eileen O’Brien. “The numbers are not static; they are trending in the opposite direction of what we would like to see. But on balance I think if you look at the integrity of the games, the protections in place, the lack of increase to occupancy, the additional rehires that would occur as a result, I think it is an appropriate time now to discuss this and vote on it as a commission.”

Proposed North Carolina Casino Project to Move Forward

The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee for Indigenous Peoples held a hearing last Thursday regarding disputed tribal land in North Carolina. The land is roughly 17 acres and is located in Kings Mountain off of Interstate 85 near Exit 5. It has been hotly contested by claims from both the Catawba Indian Nation and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Catawba Indian Nation looks to move forward with a proposed casino project on the land once the dispute is settled.

The Issue

In March of 2020, the U.S. Department of the Interior decided to place the disputed land in a trust so that the Catawba Indians could develop their casino. In mid-September, Representative G.K. Butterfield, a Democrat of North Carolina, introduced the Catawba Indian Nation Lands Act (H.R. 8255). The Act would serve to reaffirm the U.S. Department of the Interior’s ruling.

Catawba Chief Bill Harris and the Mayor of Kings Mountain, Scott Neisler, testified at the hearing as supporters of H.R. 8255. In addition, the principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Richard Sneed, appeared and spoke before the subcommittee in opposition to the Act. The crux of both side’s arguments is a historical claim to the land on which the casino is to be built. The fact that the land has been put aside specifically for the development of a casino also breaks historical precedent where Native American land disputes are concerned.

The Hearing

At the hearing, both proponents and opponents of the Act were questioned by members of the House Subcommittee including Subcommittee Chair Rep. Ruben Gallego from Arizona, Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, and Rep. Paul Cook from California. North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker has long been in opposition to the bill and took the opportunity to ask some probing questions of Chief Harris. Namely he inquired as to the unnamed developers and financiers of the project and why they remained so.

“Not only would current legislative proposals in Congress advocating on behalf of Catawba gambling interests in the Charlotte area play favorites at the expense of our state’s recognized Cherokee tribe, but the presence of an additional casino would have consequential economic impacts for many western North Carolinians who call our state home.” Walker went on, “I encourage supporters of these efforts to realign behind the already-bipartisan opposition and stand firm in prioritizing North Carolinians and the tribes that call our state home. Picking winners from other states is a bad bet.”

More Opposition

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is also seeking to halt development on the project through litigation. They filed a case in federal court against the Department of the Interior seeking a preliminary injunction but were denied. That ruling lead to a groundbreaking ceremony for the project in July of 2020.

Defend NC is an organization backed by the Cherokee tribe running advertisements and public awareness campaigns aimed at building public pressure against the project. The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners voting in August opposed the project in a 6-1 vote and a further eleven members of the judiciary, on both sides of the aisle, signed their names to an opinion piece in the Asheville Citizen-Times opposing the casino project.

Next Steps

Groundbreaking for the project kicked off in July of 2020. However, the Catawba tribe must also receive approval for a class III gaming compact from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper. The gaming compact would allow the tribe to introduce high-stakes slot machines and table games to their casino. Without the compact, the only gaming allowed on the site would be class II games such as, bingo and non-banked card games.

As of this time, the Governor’s office has not indicated how it will rule on the gaming compact. The Governor himself has expressed neither support nor opposition to the project.

Proposed Rocksino to Move Forward in Indiana

In order to move forward with development of Indiana’s proposed Rocksino, a project by Spectacle Jack LLC in partnership with Hard Rock International, casino ownership was required to undergo an investigation by the Indiana Gaming Commission. Last year, the casino received approval from Vigo County residents to move forward with the project. This year, casino leadership had to convince the Indiana Gaming Commission that it had appropriately responded to a federal court case in Virginia’s Eastern District.

The Case in Question

Spectacle Jack LLC was the only applicant to be awarded a gaming license for development of a casino in Vigo County in 2020. Spectacle Jack LLC is a subsidiary of Spectacle Entertainment, a Gary Indiana casino developer.

The Indiana Gaming Commission had scheduled a February 7 meeting to review the company’s application. According to Indiana Gaming Commission Executive Director Sara Gonso Tait, the purpose of the meeting was “to consider the application for a casino owners license in Vigo County.” However, on January 24 the Gaming Commission canceled the February meeting and announced that there were members of the Spectacle Executive Leadership Team under investigation. The Gaming Commission became aware of a federal court case in the Eastern District of Virginia involving, among others, Charles O’Neill an employee of Strategic Campaign Group Inc.

O’Neill plead guilty to illegally transferring roughly $15,000 in 2015 from a gaming company based out of Indianapolis to the campaign for a candidate to The U.S. House of Representatives for Indiana’s Ninth Congressional District. The government contends that the scheme involved the company’s vice president, general counsel, and a gaming corporation based out of Indianapolis and incorporated in Delaware. The company in question was in fact Centaur Gaming however, certain upper management of Centaur are now the owners and operators of Spectacle Gaming. Spectacle Gaming is the “holder of Majestic Star Casino License in Gary. Spectacle is also currently undertaking a land-based casino project in Gary and pursuing the new casino license in Vigo County,” said the Indiana Gaming Commission.

As a result, the Gaming Commission stated that they had “begun a review pursuant to its statutory responsibilities.” Both community leaders and Spectacle Entertainment leadership were eager to resolve the issue and get development back on schedule for what all hope will be a lucrative project. Spectacle Entertainment responded quickly with a proposed solution to the Gaming Commission’s concerns. The general counsel, John Keeler, and Spectacle CEO Rod Ratcliff purposed, in an amended application, to withdraw from participation in Spectacle Jack LLC.

Indiana Gaming Commission Deputy Director Jenny Reske wrote “Spectacle Entertainment, Mr. Ratcliff, and Mr. Keeler have fully cooperated with the Indiana Gaming Commission’s review of this matter but indicated they wished to provide a voluntary remedy which would allow commission consideration without additional delay. The amended application reflects that Mr.Ratcliff and Mr. Keeler are no longer involved in Spectacle Jack’s operations.” In light of these changes, the Gaming Commission found that the application meets the requirements of Indiana statute.

In May of 2020, the Gaming Commission approved Spectacle Jack’s application for a gaming license and development agreement. The company agreed to a deal which will require is to pay 3% of its adjusted gross receipts to the Vigo County Community Improvement Foundation Inc.

A Surprising Addition

Spectacle Jack LLC has made it clear from the beginning that one of its primary goals would be to benefit the Vigo County community. From foundation payments to a new smoke free initiative, the company has vowed to advance community goals and improve health among residents.

Greg Gibson, owner of Spectacle Jack LLC, did not make the decision to go smoke free on the casino floor lightly. “Recognizing we had to make a good business decision for the company to maintain a solid financial ground for the future and provide a welcoming entertainment facility for all Hoosiers and guests, we had to look at data, become creative and benchmark other facilities which were successful with this model.”

The casino will feature outside covered patios to accommodate guests’ smoking needs. The patios will incorporate a full heating and air conditioning system and offer a limited offering of slots and table games.

The Rocksino is still on track for a groundbreaking in the Fall of 2020.