Local News

Harrah's at Cherokee Opens Thursday

Posted November 13, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— Imagine $82 million worth of lights, games and entertainment,all packed into one massive building. Add the element of chance and the possibility of seemingly endless riches and you've got Harrah's -- the huge new casino on the North Carolina Cherokee reservation.

Grand opening ceremonies and a sneak preview took place Wednesday night, and the doors opened to the public Thursday at the newest gambling casino between Atlantic City and Las Vegas. It is a first for NC. First day visitors packed the casino leaving hundreds standing in lines outdoors. Traffic was backed up for miles on roads leading into Cherokee.

About 4,000 gamblers ventured in when the doors were opened.

Raymond Wilson sat in traffic for quite a while before reaching the casino. He said he would have been headed home from a vacation today if it hadn't been for the opening, but he didn't want to miss that.

Gaming machines fill the equivalent of three football fields. With extravagant decor, including an indoor waterfall and neon lightning.

Governor Hunt, who says he does not approve of gambling, did not attend the event. Secretary of Transportation Garland Garrett was the only state official in attendance. He said Governor Jim Hunt was unable to attend because he was out of town.

The tribe expects to make $50 million each year from the casino. Half of that money will go directly to the Cherokee people. Each will get about $5,000 per year. That, says Chief Joyce Dugan, is going to provide a real economic boost to one of the poorest Native American tribe in the country.

Chief Dugan said seeing the casino finally open and all the people coming in filled her with excitement and pride, but some Native Americans say the Cherokee are selling out their history and heritage. Chief Dugan says it's all a matter of numbers. The casino, open around the clock seven days a week, is providing 1,100 new jobs to the area. Most of those jobs will be filled by Cherokee.

Jim Watson of Durham drove to Cherokee to be among the first gamblers at the new casino. He said he thinks it will be good for the South overall.

The casino differs from those in Las Vegas and Atlantic City in that it does not serve alcoholic beverages and does not have live dealers. The entire area is filled with automated machines.

Photographer:Joe Frieda