Cherokees announce $275M expansion for NC casino, record profits in FY2021

Tribal distributions for the 2021 fiscal year were 45% higher than 2020 and 17% above 2019. A $275M loan agreement has been approved for expansion plans on the Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina; the tribe hopes to break ground in February or March. The news comes only half a year after a $330M expansion in the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has announced record casino profits and plans for expansion on their Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina. A $275 million loan agreement has been approved for the project.

The 2021 fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, saw tribal distributions 45% higher than 2020 and 17% up from 2019, casino spokesperson Brian Saunooke said, according to Smoky Mountain News. The increased per capita distributions come despite a 0.79% increase in the number of tribal members receiving them since last year.

This increase in tribal distributions corresponds both to higher revenues and decreases in operational expenses required earlier in the pandemic. It’s worth noting that, throughout last year, the tribe’s gaming operations closed completely from March 18 to May 12.

“Both casinos performed very well throughout the fiscal year,” said Saunooke on the Cherokee and Murphy venues. “When compared to the prior-year period, the resort in Cherokee was responsible for 65% of the increased distribution to the tribe.” 

Although the new record-high distribution is well above the former record set in 2019, it didn’t reflect the early success of the new Cherokee Convention Center, which opened on October 1. The December tribal distribution only accounted for profits earned from April 1 through September 30. In its first month, the center hosted 28 groups, and its attached 725-room hotel tower kept 97% occupancy.

But while the announcements show gaming operations are running smoothly, the tribe plans to further capitalize on this success: only half a year after a $330 million expansion in its Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, the tribal nation hopes to break ground on a $275 million expansion on its Murphy venue.

The Tribal Council approved a master plan for the expansion during a July 8 meeting, and the loan agreement necessary to start construction was approved on November 4. Chairman Tommy Lambert told the council that he hopes to break ground in February or March, with the loan expected to close December 1, further reports Smoky Mountain News.

While still unclear what the new construction will include, it is expected that the new key features will be a new hotel tower, restaurant, hotel lobby café, spa and indoor pool. Additional gaming space and more parking would also be added.

The expansion would contribute to maintaining competitiveness in the market. However, much debate has ensued among tribal members, given increased construction costs because of the pandemic. The accuracy of the $275 million project has been called into question, being pointed out that the prior $330 million expansion was originally approved on a $250 million budget.