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‘Everything Is Tied To Gaming Revenue,’ Says Chief Sneed As Eastern Band Casinos Reopen

Matt Bush
Harrah's has locations on the Qualla Boundary and in Murphy.

Both Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos opened at 30 percent capacity Thursday morning.

When Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians talks about the tribe’s yearly budget - he’s also talking about the revenue of Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos.  


“I don't think that most of our citizens have given much thought to the fact of how everything is tied to gaming revenue,” says Sneed. 


About50 percent of the tribe’s budget is made up of revenue from the casino.  A budget proposal must be ready for the tribal council by July 1. 


“We've already put it out there. That, you know, we're looking at a budget that's probably going to be 50 percent of what the FYI 20 budget was. So the 21 budget that we will present will be at 50 percent of gaming projections,” explained Sneed in mid-May. He says that education and healthcare will be the last areas to be cut. 


Sneed explains the casino has a large impact on all of Western North Carolina, not just the Qualla Boundary: 


“Let's be clear, it's not just our economy. It's the economy of Western North Carolina. The region is inextricably connected to our gaming operations,” says Sneed. 


There are almost 4,000 workers employed at the Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy. While the casinos were closed for almost 60 days, employees were only furloughed for about a month. 


Around 1,600 of the employees went back to work on May 18, when the casino opened for guests by invitation only. Harrah’s says that 15,000 invitations were extended to members of the Caesars Rewards program.  


Casino leadership was not available for an interview but staff shared updated health and sanitation protocols in an email. 

“We are delighted to re-open our doors and begin to bring our team members back to work,” says spokesperson Kelci White in an email. 

Employees and guests will undergo temperature checks before entering the casino and employees will all wear masks provided by Harrah’s. Guests will also be required to wear face coverings. The casino’s gaming areas will temporarily be non-smoking.


“Employees have been trained on cleaning and disinfectant techniques, including use of PPE, protocols for all surfaces and tracking cleaning schedules. We are facilitating the recommended social distancing guidelines throughout the casino and the presence of hand sanitizer stations have been increased across each area,” explained White in an email. 


 As of noon on May 28, there were 18 positive cases of COVID-19 reported by the EBCI Public Health and Human Services Division.  At 4 p.m. the division announced two new cases in Swain County who were tested by the Cherokee Indian Hospital.

The Eastern Band also announcedupdated COVID-19 protection measures today including continued checkpoints at the Food Lion and a requirement that everyone at both casinos will wear a mask.  People on the Qualla Boundary will no longer be asked to quarantine for 14 days after a trip and will no longer be required to wear a face covering in public.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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