EBCI Per Capita Payments Down, Suggesting Drop In NC Tribal Casino Revenue

North Carolina tribal gaming revenue appears to be down this year, based on the recent per capita distribution figures for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI).

There are several reasons as to what could have led to this dip in NC tribal gaming revenue, which appears to differ from the national trend.

Here’s a closer look.

How do EBCI per capita payments correlate with casino revenue?

Members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians receive per capita payments from the casinos as shareholders of their operations. The payments come based on casino revenue.

We’re talking about two casinos here — Harrah’ Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy.

It’s worth noting that there are a different number of shareholders at each distribution time. So, these per capita numbers aren’t a perfect indicator of casino revenue, but they paint a fairly accurate picture

How much are per capita distribution payments this year?

December’s payment is 14.1% lower than December 2022’s number. This year, June and December’s numbers are down 8.6% from last year’s.

This might be one of the last times that the per capita numbers are available to the public, according to Principal Chief Michell Hicks.

In a Facebook post in November, Hicks noted that a portal for these figures is in the works. The platform would only be accessible for members of the tribes. It would also house other tribal finances.

What is the reason behind the drop in EBCI per capita figures?

There are a number of different factors as to why there could be such a dip as of late.

Jackson County Tourism Development Authority Executive Director Nick Breedlove told Smoky Mountain News that the cause could be a mix of things. Breedlove indicated that low tourism numbers, inflation, the looming possibility of a recession and more destination options post-COVID-19 could all factor into the drop in casino revenue.

Still, he’s not overly concerned with the trend. Breedlove noted that conversations with others yielded similar findings.

“All in all, we’ve maintained market share pretty well, not just in Jackson County but in the mountain region,” he told Smoky Mountain News. “A lot of my colleagues I’ve talked with are experiencing the same trends, which is really positive considering all those external factors.”

Competition could factor into the decline, too

Markets tend to settle as more and more casino locations open. And that’s also the case with Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort opened in 1997 and is a staple within the area. Meanwhile, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River opened eight years ago in 2015.

But since then, other gambling facilities have popped up nearby and could very well chip away at revenue.

Catawba Two Kings Casino in Kings Mountain is a temporary facility boasting over 1,000 machines. The temporary Danville Casino in Danville, Virginia also siphons a lot of North Carolinians into its weekly traffic. Both casinos are much closer to the major metro areas in North Carolina than the two EBCI-owned Harrah’s casinos.

Interestingly, these per-capita numbers have dropped slightly, as it goes against the trend nationally.

The country’s gambling industry is up 6.1% yearly, according to the American Gaming Association’s commercial gaming revenue tracker. AGA findings show that more than 102 million Americans visited a casino for gambling over the past year.

Harrah’s casinos are major economic players

Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos released its Economic Impact Report for 2022 at the beginning of the year.

The findings disclosed that the two casinos made $160 million in payments to vendors and paid $187.2 million to their team members in salaries and wages. $7.5 million went to the Cherokee Preservation Fund. Those three totals all surpassed their respective 2021 marks.

In other words, these two casinos are key for the area and the tribe. The Cherokee Preservation Fund helps to maintain the downtown Cherokee district. Additioanlly, it created grants that help other organizations local to the area with long-term stability and to expand their programming.

About the Author

Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley's byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working as an editor and reporter for the Daily Iowan’s sports department.