Business Briefs

Study: Casino pumps $380M into Cherokee economy

Posted June 27, 2011 1:06 p.m. EDT

— Harrah's Cherokee Casino contributes more than $380 million directly to the local economy, according to a report by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The study concludes that the casino has brought significant economic and social benefit to one of North Carolina's traditionally depressed regions.

The casino opened in Jackson County in November 1997 and has grown from a simple bingo operation to a complex multi-product firm and tourist destination attracting 3.6 million visitors a year.

"The economic impact of the casino is large and dramatic," James H. Johnson Jr., co-author of the report and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the Frank Hawkins Kenan Institute of Private Enterprise, part of UNC's Kenan-Flagler Business School, said in a statement.

"By attracting significant tourist spending to the region, a majority of which comes from out of state, the opening of Harrah's Cherokee Casino has had a clear positive impact on the economy of western North Carolina," Johnson said.

The economic benefits reported include the following:

  • Visitor-generated gaming revenue totaled $386 million in 2010 after temporarily peaking at $449 million in 2007.
  • The economic impact of casino revenues on the local economy (Jackson and Swain counties) totaled approximately $300 million in 2009, with spending for capital improvements contributing an estimated $82 million more.
  • Casino hiring represented 5 percent of local employment and 8 percent of all wages and salary disbursements made in the two-county area.
  • Casino operational spending on wages and vendor purchases contributed more than $65 million to the local economy.
  • The casino's economic impact extended to the western N.C. region, boosting per capita income from 70 percent of the state average in the mid 1990s to more than 80 percent, reducing historically high unemployment rates and raising employment to the statewide average.

The casino impact study was funded by the Eastern Band of Cherokee, which owns the casino; Harrah's, which manages the casino; the Cherokee Preservation Foundation; and Advantage West, the regional economic development partnership for western North Carolina.

Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks said the tribe commissioned the UNC study to quantify the casino's impact and provide data it can use to make strategic decisions about its future. It is seeking state approval to expand gaming operations.

"The results demonstrate that gaming has been good for the tribe, for western North Carolina and for the state," Hicks said in a statement. "It also shows the tribe has been a good steward of the proceeds, investing in our community and region in ways that enhance our economic and social health and vitality."