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N.C. House members ask for investigation of Catawba casino development

The future site of the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort off Dixon School Road in Cleveland County. The Catawba Indian Nation broke ground on the controversial project last July. (Photo by Joe Killian)

N.C. House Democrats are calling for an investigation into the Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort, now under development in Kings Mountain.

As a Policy Watch investigative series illuminated last year, there have for years been questions about conflicts of interest and potential political corruption in the development.

Last week WRAL reported  Attorney General Josh Stein will decline the request , saying any investigation would have to come at the local level.

The WRAL report also quotes Kings Mountain mayor Scott Neisler as dismissing the letter asking for an investigation.

From the story:

The letter questions whether there were any “closed door hearings” where local leaders “might have received information that could be used to gain improper benefits.” It also says unnamed properties were “bought by a nearly untraceable network of LLCs, sometimes by entities that do not seem to have any legal organization or registration.”

The letter mentions one local name: Kings Mountain Mayor Scott Neisler, saying he stands to benefit from casino development through family land nearby.

Neisler told WRAL News Friday that he would welcome an investigation. He said he doesn’t expect to profit from the casino and that the roughly 700 acres his family owns a few miles from the project is, for the most part, being mined and “not buildable because of the mineral rights on it.”

“There’s no smoke here,” he said.

 

Policy Watch’s investigation found  the Neisler family owns land valued at $4.2 million in the area, including a 783 parcel within a mile of the new casino. Neisler confirmed those figures with Policy Watch last year, did not make the claim that mineral rights would prevent development and denied his family company’s large holdings amounted to a conflict of interests.

“My house even in town is going to go up in price, so that’s a conflict of interest” Neisler told Policy Watch. “But that’s kind of looking in futuristic terms and saying, ‘Hey, something two miles down the road is going to be worth a whole lot because this is coming in.’ Well, it could and it couldn’t. I don’t know.”

The Catawba and Cherokee tribes have been in conflict over the casino development for years.

At issue:  a proposed $273 million, 17-acre project in Cleveland County. The Catawba Indian Nation  has been working for seven years to make the resort a reality. It plans gaming tables, 1,300 electronic game machines as well as restaurants, which it says will economically benefit the tribe and the area.

Although the Catawba’s headquarters are just across the border in Rock Hill, SC, the tribe claims the 17 acres in North Carolina as its ancestral land. The US Department of the Interior initially rejected the tribe’s request to acquire the land, citing a land settlement act approved by Congress in 1993. Under that act, the Catawba tribe is prohibited by South Carolina law from pursuing more lucrative gaming, having to restrict itself to high-stakes bingo. But the federal government reversed that decision in March, allowing the tribe to cross state lines and break ground on the resort in July.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opposes the resort. That tribe, which operates two casinos in western North Carolina, also claims the land in question as its ancestral territory and is suing in federal court. Tribal leaders say the federal government allowing the Catawba to move across state lines for the purposes of more lucrative gaming interests sets a bad precedent.

“That deal clearly smells of stinky money,” Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, told WRAL last week.

“I don’t see how this looks like anything other than some insider deal that somebody’s going to cash in on,” he said.

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N.C. House members ask for investigation of Catawba casino development