Catawba Indians to start construction of $700M NC casino near Charlotte, with 2,000 jobs

The Catawba Indians will begin construction next week of their $700 million casino in Kings Mountain, creating nearly 2,000 jobs, tribal leaders said Friday.

The tribe, based in Rock Hill, S.C., has operated a single-level “temporary” casino at the site since 2021, off Interstate 85 exit 5 about 35 miles west of Charlotte.

Tribal officials said they plan to open the first phase of their permanent, 2-million-square-foot Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort in early 2026. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. June 7, according to a Catawba Nation news release on Friday.

The ground-level first phase will include 1,350 slots and electronic table games, 12 table games and a 40-seat restaurant with a sportsbook area with 30 self-service kiosks.

Private settlement paves way for construction

The tribe is finally able to build the casino after finalizing a private settlement in early May with its former casino developer over the ground lease for its trust lands, officials said.

The settlement with SkyBoat Gaming removed the firm from any interest in the casino project. SkyBoat, which is led by politically-connected Wallace Cheves, helped the tribe acquire 17 acres in Kings Mountain and have it put into a land trust for the casino project.

In 2022, the National Indian Gaming Commission found that the development contract between the tribe and SkyBoat violated federal law. SkyBoat, the gaming commission ruled, had too much ownership and authority over the project, which is supposed to benefit the roughly 3,000 Catawba members.

The agreement gave SkyBoat “management authority” over the casino operation, a violation of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act, the commission said. The gaming commission also ruled that the Catawba Nation and SkyBoat failed to submit a management contract within 60 days of its execution, as required by law.

Last year, the gaming commission certified a settlement agreement between the Catawba Nation and SkyBoat. Under that deal, the tribe would pay its former partners $125 million.

But Harris, the Catawba Nation chief, told the Observer in October that $125 million was too much.

The terms of the settlement announced Friday are unclear.

Parking wars end

In February, the tribe bought from SkyBoat land located around its temporary casino, including the parking lot and property that could support resort amenities.

The parking lot, too, has been a contentious topic for months.

Kings Mountain Land Development Partners, LLC, which Cheves has a stake in, owned the parking lot and subleased it to SkyBoat.

Kings Mountain had offered to lease it to the tribe for $6 million a year, Harris told the Observer last year.

That was too much, Harris said.

“We persevered to achieve a fair deal so that we can now realize the full financial and economic benefits of the project for Catawba Nation members and residents of Cleveland County,” Harris said in a statement.

“The establishment of this casino is not just about bricks and mortar,” Harris said. “It symbolizes our commitment to preserving our tribal identity, supporting our community and creating opportunities for our people.”

Harris said the tribe is “working to keep casino revenue in North Carolina, as opposed to what outside commercial casino companies would do.”

Planning for the permanent casino resort continued during the settlement negotiations, the chief said, and construction and design plans are now complete.

Initial financing is in place, he said.

What the casino will include

The tribe has completed two key projects needed for the permanent casino: Doubling the size of the Dixon School Road bridge over I-85 near the casino entrance and installing new sewer lines near the casino.

Delaware North, a global hospitality and entertainment consultant, will develop and manage the casino resort once the National Indian Gaming Commission approves related contracts, tribal officials said. Delaware North has consulted on the project since 2019.

SOSHNY Design, the architect for the casino project, has designed many casino resorts, including Delaware North’s $320 million Southland Casino Hotel in West Memphis, Arkansas, officials said.

During construction, the temporary casino will continue to operate and is set to add 12 live table games and 56 slot machines in early summer, along with additional parking.

Also during the first phase, back-of-house space will be completed for surveillance, security and the “gaming cage,” where money and chips are handled.

Part of the first two floors of a parking garage, with 1,600 spots, will be completed above the ground level.

The first phase will replace the current facility, according to the tribe.

400-room hotel planned

The second phase will include a 400-room hotel and the rest of the casino complex, which will be stacked above the ground floor, officials said Friday.

The hotel tower will be a standalone building connected to the casino complex.

The completed complex will include: Three levels of parking; a main casino floor with 4,300 slots and 100 table games; five restaurants, including a steakhouse, Italian restaurant, a buffet, café and grab-and-go outlet; a players lounge; and six bars.

The tribe said it doesn’t yet know when the main casino complex and the hotel are expected to be finished.

This is a developing story that will be updated.

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