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Harrah's at Cherokee Opens Thursday

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Neon lightning and an indoor waterfall decorate the new casino.
CHEROKEE — Imagine $82 million worth of lights, gamesand entertainment,all packed into one massive building. Add the element ofchance and the possibility of seemingly endless riches and you've got Harrah's -- the huge new casino on the North Carolina Cherokeereservation.

Grand opening ceremonies and a sneak preview took place Wednesdaynight, and the doors opened to the public Thursday at the newest gamblingcasino between Atlantic City and Las Vegas. It is a first for NC. Firstday visitors packed the casino leaving hundreds standing in linesoutdoors. 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 thecasino. He said he would have been headed home from a vacation today if ithadn'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 attendthe event. Secretary of Transportation Garland Garrett was the only stateofficial in attendance. He said Governor Jim Hunt was unable to attendbecause 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 realeconomic boost to one of the poorest Native American tribe in the country.

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

Jim Watson of Durham drove to Cherokee to be among the first gamblersat the new casino. He said he thinks it will be good for the Southoverall.

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

Photographer:Joe Frieda

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