Harrah’s in NC bets on live card games at Cherokee

Cherokee, North Carolina (AP) Jan. 2010

The expansion of Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Hotel in western North Carolina will include a room reserved for poker card games, even though such games aren’t allowed now.

The Asheville Citizen-Times reported that Michell Hicks, principal chief for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, said he was confident talks with the state will resume soon on allowing live card games. The casino now offers video poker and digital card games.

The tribe is waiting to see if the video poker industry appeals a court ruling allowing gambling in Cherokee but nowhere else in the state, Hicks said.

“You can anticipate that if they decide not to appeal, I’ll be turning up the heat at the governor’s office,” he said.

The expanded casino will include a new 20-story hotel tower with 532 rooms and a 3,000-seat event center. Some parts of the nearly $600 million expansion could be open as early as April, project manager Erik Sneed said during a briefing on the work Monday.

The addition, expected to be complete by 2012, will double the floor space to 150,000 square feet and provide twice the number of gambling machines, with 5,200 slots.

Putting in tables for live poker follows the casino managers’ plan to put bars in the new casino, even though the tribe had not approved the sale of alcohol when construction started, Sneed said. Then, in June, voters in June agreed to sell beer, wine and liquor at the casino.

Casino officials wouldn’t comment on the status of negotiations between the tribe and Gov. Beverly Perdue on getting live dealers, but Sneed said, “The outlook is positive.”

Talks between Hicks and former Gov. Mike Easley fell apart in 2006 after the two couldn’t agree on how much tax money would go to the state if card dealers were allowed.

At the time, the tribe said western North Carolina could see 430 new jobs with a payroll of more than $15 million if the state allowed live poker, craps and blackjack.

The casino now brings in about $225 million a year, which is split between the tribe’s government and its 14,000 members.