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Speaker Tillis, 100 House lawmakers sign letter opposing Catawba casino

House Speaker Thom Tillis and more than 100 House lawmakers signed a letter Tuesday to oppose a potential Catawba Nation casino in North Carolina.

The letter is directed to U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell in an effort to block the South Carolina tribe's efforts to acquire lands to establish a gaming operation north of the state line. The federal agency must take the lands into a trust for gaming to occur on the land.

The Catawba's are exploring land in Cleveland County along Interstate 85 for a potential gaming facility that could include Las Vegas-styled live dealers and slot machines. Local officials are touting it as an economic development effort and a top official in Gov. Pat McCrory's administration visited the site earlier this year.

Since The News & Observer first reported the visit, McCrory's office has distanced the governor from project, saying it is a local initiative. The governor would need to sign a compact to allow the top tier gaming but the tribe could open a slot-like bingo operation without state approval.

The effort, spearheaded by Speaker Pro Tem Paul "Skip" Stam, an Apex Republican and gambling opponent, included 101 signatures at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday. The bipartisan list represents nearly 85 percent of the 120-member House. Democratic leader Larry Hall and deputy leader Michael Wray were among those who signed it.

The brief letter expresses the signatories "serious opposition" to any attempt by a tribe located outside the state from acquiring lands for gaming. It also asks for notifcation if the Catawba's files an application to move forward with the project. "Gambling is a matter the federal government leaves within the purview of the states," the letter states. "Within the State of North Carolina, we have carefully balanced the interests of our state citizens and the rights of the tribes."

Tillis' name on the letter adds significant weight. He is running for the U.S. Senate in 2014 and is the most prominent opponent to date. He represents a district north of Charlotte, just east of the proposed project.


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