EBCI Proposes More Sports Betting Revenue In NC Tribal Pockets

Jumping on the North Carolina sports betting train, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are expanding their gaming business and potentially increasing their per capita earning. 

A resolution proposed by EBCI Principal Chief Sam Sneed at the last Tribal Council Session calls for the tribe’s attorney general to work closely with the Tribal Casino Gaming Enterprise (TCGE) and EBCI Holdings LLC to draft an ordinance whereby 75% of the sports wagering proceeds would be distributed as per capita payments to tribal members. 

Presently, only half of the profits from the two North Carolina tribal casinos, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy and Harrah’s Cherokee in Cherokee, are distributed as per capita payments. With the pending launch of online sports betting in North Carolina, the tribe plans to capitalize on mobile wagering revenue. 

What is per capita spending?

During a time when many Native nations are generating increased revenues, much of which is the result of the rapid expansion of tribal gaming and online sports betting, the question of how to spend that money comes to the forefront. 

Should the money be re-invested in their businesses? Should it be used for social needs? Or should some of it be given to individual citizens? 

One option is to distribute a portion of the funds gleaned from tribal gaming to tribal members on a per capita basis. This alternative is understandably popular among tribal citizens as it puts money directly into their hands, allowing them to meet urgent needs. 

Sneed proposes a 25% bump in per capita spending 

Sneed’s proposal would see a 25% larger share of commercial sports betting revenue go to tribal members

One reason for this is that state regulators in Indiana obstructed profits from Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, which is owned and operated by the EBCI, from being divvied up among tribal members.

The way Sneed sees it, the traditional 50-50 split would not amount to much money for each tribe member’s pocket. 

“I went with 75-25 because it is a smaller pot of money, but will make a larger impact on the overall per capita distribution,” Sneed said to the Smoky Mountain News

Online sports betting a modest source of tribal income

It’s worth noting that while commercial gaming falls under the jurisdiction of the state, Tribal casinos in North Carolina are bound by the regulations of the National Indian Gaming Commission

Consequently, the legalization of North Carolina online sports betting comes as a boon for the tribe as it permits the EBCI to expand its sports betting reach, possibly through the addition of a Caesars NC mobile app to compliment the retail Caesars sportsbook on site. The expansion will bring in an anticipated $2-$4 million a year. 

A pittance in comparison to the more than $500 million the tribe makes each year; however, if three-quarters of the anticipated $2-$4 million were split up equally among the 16,000 members of the tribe in North Carolina, each one would receive around $90 to $190 each year. 

“Sports betting is not a huge moneymaker here on the property,” Sneed said. “So the in-person sportsbook is more of an experience. It’s a different kind of player. It’s just another amenity. The hold for the house is like 10%. It’s not a huge win for the house.” 

While tribal casino operators are always pleased with high guest turnout at their casinos, they’re really banking on patrons using their mobile sports wagering options. With 12 commercial licenses available though, the competition could be fierce among operators. 

The EBCI owns and operates two casino resorts in North Carolina, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel – the former being the largest casino not only in the state but in the southeast region, excluding Florida.

The two resorts have had a lasting economic impact on the local community, highlighted in Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos 2022 Economic Impact Report. 

Tribal Council treads carefully

By and large, the Tribal Council viewed Sneed’s concept favorably. However, it stopped short of taking decisive action without first evaluating in depth the tribe’s finances.  

T.W. Saunooke, a representative of the Yellow Hill community, proposed an amendment to Sneed’s resolution that would omit the specific intent to distribute 75% of the proceeds as per capita payments. 

The exact figure for distribution could be determined at a later date after discussions with the tribe’s gaming entities have taken place. 

Wolfetown Rep. Mike Parker commented early on in the discussion saying he “loved the intent” of the resolution but wished to delay discussion on the subject.

“The reason for my request is just thinking through our current financial situation and everything,” he said. “I think we still have not had an opportunity to sit down and discuss prioritizing tribal projects, outside projects. We all sitting around the table know we’re trying to figure out how we’re going to fund some of these things.”

Calls for caution also came from Painttown Rep. Michael Stamper who urged that a hasty decision now could lead to some “controversy down the road.” 

He, therefore, proposed holding a work session on the bigger picture of tribal finances before passing a resolution. 

Sneed welcomed the tribe’s prudent stance. He also made reassurances that passing the resolution did not equate to a change in tribal law. Instead, it would incentivize the TCGE and EBCI Holdings to work in tandem with the tribe to draw up viable legislation which the Tribal Council could then either pass or kill. 

“All this does is authorize the Attorney General to work with EBCI Holdings to work on an ordinance to create the revenue allocation,” Sneed said. 

Sneed acknowledged Rep. Parker’s input was constructive, but highlighted that the bigger issue with regard to funding “projects” is the need to create a process on the Tribal Council side. As he pointed out, at present “there is no process.”

Ultimately, the principal chief did not contest Saunooke’s motion to remove the 75% value from the resolution. Satisfied with both the amendment and the resolution, the Tribal Council unanimously approved them both. 

About the Author

Rashid Mohamed

Rashid Mohamed is a freelance news reporter covering sports, sports betting, gambling laws, and casino business for Catena Media. He writes for a number of sites including NCSharp, PlayTexas, PlayCA, and PlayOhio.