On Thursday June 4, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians passed a referendum allowing alcohol sales at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.
The referendum passed with a vote of 1,847 to 1,301, with the most resistance coming from Snowbird in Graham County, where citizens believe that any introduction of alcohol sales will raise the crime rate.
Tribal Council member Angela Kephart from Cherokee County helped to push the measure through, expressing “The reservation has never had alcohol served anywhere. I was always against alcohol on the reservation, but this will be served inside the casino only. Our enrolled members aren’t going to go there and pay five or six dollars a drink.”
This is the second vote on alcohol sales in 29 years, with the last one occurring in 1980. The current referendum was due to a petition from the Cherokee voters that overrode Principal Chief Michell Hicks veto, thus forcing the Tribal Council to hold an election.
The election came after January layoffs at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and a significant reduction in per-capita checks. The checks fell from $4,473 in December to $3,892 in May. The reduction of payments and layoffs are due to diminishing casino visitors, a phenomenon which is attributed to the lagging economy.
Alcohol sales, as well as a proposed expansion, are expected to double the per-capita rate.
The expansion was voted on and passed in January of 2007. The $650 million dollar project is anticipated to be completed by 2012. It calls for a renovation and expansion of the casino floor, a third hotel tower and spa, a new events center, and new retail and food outlets.
The vote on alcohol sales was also a general election. The top four candidates who were voted to advance to the general election on Sep. 3 were Angela Kephart and R. Joseph Martin from Cherokee County, and Diamond Brown Jr. and Adam Wachacha from Graham County. The two candidates who receive the most votes in September will get elected to Tribal Council.
Among the concerns for the new Tribal Council will be the planning of a new Class II casino that will either be built in Graham or Cherokee County.