Cherokee plan $200M expansion of casino


CHEROKEE (AP) — The leaders of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians have approved plans to expand Harrah’s Cherokee Casino.

The tribe’s leaders approved plans earlier this month for a $200 million expansion to add between 600 and 800 additional hotel rooms, as well as 100,000 feet of convention space, the Asheville-Citizen Times reported.

Officials say the 1,100 current hotel rooms have a 99 percent occupancy rate year-round.

The casino includes 170 tables with live dealers and 3,600 digital slot machines. There is only 15,000 square feet of convention space now.

Leeann Bridges, regional vice president of marketing at Harrah’s, says the casino wants more convention business. Bridges says they’ve had to limit conventions to Mondays through Thursdays to make room for weekend gamblers. Harrah’s would like to have room for weekend conventions, too.

“We can see how much business we’ve denied during that period,” Bridges said.

There is no precise timetable for the expansion. Bridges says the sooner work starts, the better.

Requesting proposals and selecting an architect is expected to take up to nine months, followed by two years of construction.

The expansion will create more jobs, but Bridges is not sure how many.

The casino currently employs 2,600 people in Cherokee. Another tribe-owned casino in Murphy, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel, employs 1,000 people.

The new jobs would range from housekeepers to card dealers, said Steve Morse, an economist and director of the Hospitality and Tourism Program in the College of Business at Western Carolina University.

“There’s a misconception that many of those jobs are minimum wage and minimum skill, but when you look at what people are paid out there and the benefits package, there are a lot of pretty good career jobs there,” Morse said. “You’ve got a lot of moms and dads making good livings.”

Bridges said table dealers, slot hosts and cocktail servers — including their base pay and tips — can earn an average of $50,000 a year. Also, the benefits package “accounts for 50 percent of the average salary,” between the 401K, retirement plan, health and dental insurance and other perks.

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