Will Harrahs Cherokee open more North Carolina Casinos in the near future? Harrahs Cherokee flagship NC casino has been a life changing and profitable business for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian tribe. Harrahs first tribal gaming resort in NC has consistently posted strong operating revenues that have funded quality of life improvements in the tribe’s 56,000 Qualla Boundary including education, health care, housing, and cultural preservation. Tribal leadership, with the assistance of the Cherokee Casino Gaming Committee, (CCGC), has been exploring possible gaming expansion opportunities since 2008. The tribe decided to focus expansion efforts within the state of NC. Feasibility studies have been completed showing that an additional North Carolina Casino located in Murphy, NC would significantly add to Indian tribal revenues with minimal effect on the existing Harrahs Cherokee operation.
Murphy is located only 90 minutes away from the northern suburbs of Atlanta, Ga which boasts a metro population of 5,300,000. Many of these urban dwellers have been reluctant to make the 3 hour drive to Harrahs Cherokee which is located farther away from Atlanta, but would likely make the shorter jaunt to a more conveniently located North Carolina Casino just north of the Georgia state line.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian tribe purchased 800 acres of land in the spring of 2010 located along highway 19/74 3 miles north of Murphy NC & south of Marble. For the past 3 years the CCGC has been carefully planning & patiently waiting for the right time to develop this land. Tribal Leadership recently reached an agreement with state legislators to allow an additional Class III Las Vegas style casino in NC complete with live dealers & table games. This recent agreement has apparently convinced Cherokee tribal leadership & the CCGC that it is time to move forward with constructing & operating a new Harrahs North Carolina Casino facility in western North Carolina between Marble & Murphy NC. CCGC members described the future facility as “a great way to attract the over 1,500,000 area Harrahs Total Rewards players who do not currently play at Cherokee Harrahs”.
The proposed Murphy North Carolina Casino would cost approximately $100 million and have 45,000 square feet of floor gaming space. Harrahs Cherokee currently offers 190,000 square feet so the new casino would have about 25% as much gaming space. The plan initially calls for 35 table games & 1,000 game machines. Harrahs Cherokee currently offers over 4,000 game machines so the proposed Murphy North Carolina Casino would have about 25% of the current game machine capacity. Harrahs Cherokee is in the process of adding table games so that amount is a moving target.
The CCGC strongly recommends that the new casino in Murphy NC would initially construct an onsite hotel facility. Onsite accommodations are important to visitors who would like to stay for several days or a week to fully relax on the premises. Harrah’s officials stated that the 1,500 onsite rooms spread among three towers in their flagship Harrahs Cherokee facility were nearly 100% booked year around. Thousands of visitors per month are being turned away in favor of high ranking players which is not good public relations. The newly proposed casino in Murphy NC would relieve overcrowding and allow more players to have an all inclusive Harrah’s experience. Murphy is located about one hour southwest of Cherokee which would provide two Harrahs Casinos in North Carolina. The CCGC pointed out that it didn’t matter which facility gamblers were gambling at because the revenues all went into the same place.
The proposed additional Murphy Casino in NC would deliver very strong operating results by generating $45 million in revenue the first year. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian tribe could pay off the construction costs of the Murphy NC Casino in less than 3 years if all revenues were dedicated to quickly paying down the debt. Those increasing revenues could then be allocated for a quicker paydown of the recent $600 million renovation & expansion of the original Harrahs Cherokee. The tribe could then allocate all revenues of the newest of their North Carolina Casinos to the expansion paydown of the original Cherokee facility & save hundreds of millions of dollars in debt service.
The CCGC reported that the tribe would expedite site development including water, sewer & drainage to allow for construction of a temporary structure which would be built and utilized until the entire permanent Murphy North Carolina Casino would be completed in late 2014 at which point the temporary structure would be repurposed. It is believed that Harrah’s has the inside track to receive the management agreement for the new facility. The Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian Tribe has approval from NC state officials to construct & operate additional North Carolina Casinos after completion of the Murphy project. Cherokee tribal officials have considered future sites further east near Asheville, NC. They probably would not construct more than a total of three Harrahs NC Casinos as they are constrained by a geographical limitation of staying to the west of NC Highway 26.