The Cherokee Nation each year makes hundreds of millions of dollars to distribute to its members through gambling, but that’s not enough. The tribe wants to expand its gaming options to include live dealers, and also wants exclusive rights to gambling in North Carolina extending eastward to Interstate 95.
The Lumbee Tribe, the largest in the state, doesn’t make a single cent a year off of gambling and, predictably, is opposing the Cherokee’s quest, which is now in the negotiating stage with Gov. Bev Perdue’s office. The Cherokees’ pursuit is buoyed by the truth that cash-strapped North Carolina needs new revenue sources. Details are being discussed, but the Cherokees are ready to surrender tens of millions of dollars a year to the state for expanded and exclusive gaming rights.
Let’s dispense firstly with the conversation about the merits of gambling. Clearly it is addictive, and has the potential to destroy lives in bunches. Just as clearly, it can be a lifesaver for a local economy by creating jobs and plucking dollars from the wallets and purses of tourists.
Other businesses, such as hotels and restaurants, huddle around casinos, so the ripple effect is substantial. It should be remembered that while gambling destroys lives, so does poverty, which is more determined and pervasive.
Gambling opportunities are already abundant, whether they require a flight to Las Vegas, a drive to Atlantic City, a walk to the corner store for lottery tickets, or logging onto the Internet. The air cannot be stuffed back into the balloon. It seems to us that the practical — and moral — approach is to try to regulate gambling and put its dollars to work to benefit a community.
Now is an opportunity for leaders of both the Cherokee and Lumbee to take a seat at the same table and reach a compromise that could lift members of both tribes. The Lumbee could drop opposition to live dealers and allow a reasonable expansion of the Cherokees’ gaming territory, something short of exclusivity.
In exchange, the Cherokee could agree to end all opposition to federal recognition for the Lumbee tribe, which we believe is the tallest obstacle to that occurring. The immediate prize for the Lumbee would be hundreds of millions of dollars that would boost housing, education, health and economic development needs.
Any discussion about gaming in Robeson County could be had later. The bill that is now in Congress forbids a casino in Robeson County, an obvious capitulation to the Cherokee — a strategy that has not been rewarded.
Once recognition is secured, it would then be up to the Lumbee people to decide during a referendum if they want a casino in Robeson County, but that battle is around more than the next corner.
It isn’t often that gaming offers a win-win opportunity.