By Sarah Nagem
State lawmakers are considering a casino that would be run by the Lumbee tribe in southeastern North Carolina.
The project is one of four “entertainment districts” proposed across the state by Republican leaders in the General Assembly, who have also pushed for sports betting and video gambling this session.
Rep. Jarrod Lowery, a Robeson County Republican and member of the Lumbee tribe, praised the idea of adding entertainment districts, which also call for hotels and water parks, saying they would bring much-needed economic development to rural regions. The other proposed locations are in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties.
“It’s really going to turn some of our rural areas into tourist destinations,” Lowery told the Border Belt Independent on Thursday.
Lowery said legislative leaders hope the proposals will be included in the state’s budget this year, adding that lawmakers are “very close” to reaching a budget deal.
The Lumbee tribe, which has its headquarters in Robeson County, does not full federal recognition to operate a casino. But Moore said the Lumbees could move forward with the project through “a state licensing process,” The Associated Press reported.
The General Assembly likely wouldn’t have the final say when it comes to a Lumbee casino, however. Under the tribe’s constitution, tribal members would vote on whether to operate such a facility. (The Lumbee tribe has about 60,000 members, making it the largest Native American tribe east of the Mississippi River.)
Ahead of being elected tribal chairman in late 2021, John Lowery – Jarrod Lowery’s brother – said the tribe didn’t have its immediate sights on a casino.
“There’s been no push to do a vote on that, and I don’t think there’s going to be a push on that vote any time soon,” he said at the time.
In a statement to the BBI on Thursday, John Lowery said he was aware of the proposals for entertainment districts in rural areas. Robeson is one of the poorest counties in the state, despite its proximity to Interstate 95.
“We understand that state lawmakers and the governor will have the final say over the state budget,” he said. “We look forward to reviewing any economic opportunities that may be provided for the Lumbee Tribe once the budget is approved.”
John Lowery said this spring he was increasingly confident that Congress would grant full federal recognition to the tribe, which would bring millions of dollars for education, health care and other services.
North Carolina officially recognized the tribe in 1885, and Congress granted partial recognition in 1956.
But the Lumbees have faced pushback, including from other Native American tribes. Some say the Lumbees lack adequate cultural identifiers, including a shared language.
Leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the only tribe in North Carolina with full federal recognition, have said the Department of the Interior, not Congress, should decide whether the Lumbees should be fully recognized.
Casinos play a key role in those discussions, as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operates a large casino in western North Carolina. The tribe opposed the Catawba casino that opened in 2021 in Kings Mountain near Charlotte.
Gaming has been a recent focus of the General Assembly, where Republicans have a majority in both the House and Senate. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, signed a measure into law last month that will legalize sports betting.
While proposals call for a casino run by the Lumbees, the three others would be North Carolina’s first casinos located outside tribal lands.
In Robeson County, where the Lumbees make up more than 40% of the population, Jarrod Lowery said he wasn’t sure how people would feel about a casino. He urged patience as more details come into focus.
“If a proposal was passed tomorrow, there’s still a long way to go,” he said. “There’s still a lot of conversations in the community to go on.”