Cherokee Principal Chief Richard Sneed speaks at the groundbreaking for the Caesars casino in Danville. Courtesy of Caesars.

The partnership announced for Danville’s casino this week has been decades in the making. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and Caesars Entertainment have been working together since 1997, when the tribe entered into Indian gaming. 

Every seven years, the gaming arm of the tribe, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Holdings, LLC, has the opportunity to renegotiate – to partner with another organization. 

But it chooses to stick with Caesars, said Principal Chief Richard Sneed at this morning’s groundbreaking event for the Danville casino. 

“We’ve been a Harrah’s property since day one, and we’re still a Harrah’s property today,” Sneed said. 

This relationship has been solidified over years of building casinos in North Carolina, where the Eastern Band is based, said Breanna Lucas, public relations officer for the tribe. 

The tribe operates Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina, and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina. 

It acquired Caesars Southern Indiana from Caesars Entertainment in September 2021, the tribe’s first acquisition outside of North Carolina. 

And now, the partnership has moved into Virgina, and the Eastern Band will be an investor in the highly anticipated Danville casino. It wasn’t revealed what percentage the tribe will own. 

This move, which was announced yesterday, has been in the works for a while, said Scott Barber, CEO of the Eastern Band of Indians Holding, LLC, at the groundbreaking event. 

Barber worked for Caesars for 21 years before joining the Eastern Band’s gaming arm. During his time with Caesars, he often worked directly or indirectly with the tribe. 

“They have a very close synergy and analogue to what we see here [in Danville],” he said. 

Barber said he approached Caesars about expanding the partnership to include a stake in Virginia. 

“We’ve spent the last year and a half or two years working through a potential partnership, on one condition – that we make it bigger and better,” Barber said. “If you remember right, this project started at $450 million ballpark, then $500 million, then yesterday, as [Caesars] announced, $650 million. So we’ve increased the scope, and we’re looking for a world class asset. It’s just going to be terrific.”

The increase in the project’s cost was announced in the same release as the partnership with the Eastern Band. 

“That number just keeps going up,” said Robert Livingston, senior vice president of development for Caesars, at the event. “That inflation, it’s real. In the old days, everything was on time, on budget. Now, it’s going to be late and it’s going to cost a hell of a lot more.”

Lucas did not respond to a question about what motivated the partnership at this time, but the established relationship between these two groups makes it a natural move. 

Plus, the tribe has a personal connection with Danville’s former economic struggles. 

“We were in poverty for generations,” Sneed said. “With the amount of revenue that comes into our community now, we have literally changed the economic scope of western North Carolina.”

Five of the poorest counties in the state were in western North Carolina, he said. The economic prosperity that area has seen is something that Danville can look forward to, too, Sneed said. 

“We now employ over 6,000 people and have stabilized the entire region’s economy,” he said, adding that “we do have to pay taxes too. So, to all the haters, we’re paying taxes.”

Today was Sneed’s first visit to Danville, and he remarked on the potential of the area, saying that the tribe looks forward to a “long-lasting, very prosperous relationship” with the city. 

Previous coverage: Caesars is about to break ground. Is Danville ready?

The formal groundbreaking. Courtesy of Caesars.

Grace Mamon

Grace Mamon is a reporter for Cardinal News. Reach her at grace@cardinalnews.org.