The Charlotte-area’s first casino is bringing games of chance to the Queen City and bringing in thousands of visitors.
After opening in early July, the casino has welcomed approximately 40,000 players, according to casino staff.
But, the new facility and its 500 slot machines are only part of the story. Citizens of Catawba Nation are hoping the project also brings generational wealth and new opportunities to the Nation and its people.
What You Need To Know
Catawba Nation's casino project is expected to bring 2,600 jobs to the area
Some of the Nation's citizens are hopeful the project brings new economic opportunities to the Catawba Nation
So far, the project has brought on roughly 250 employees, including 34 Catawba Nation citizens
The Catawba Two Kings Casino, located just off I-85 in Kings Mountain, is expansive for what the Nation calls a “pre-launch facility.” 500 slot machines and a bar and food area have taken up residence in the modular facility. The parking lot was mostly full on the week day afternoon Spectrum News 1 was at the facility.
“With the completion of our compact with the State of North Carolina, the Catawba Nation is eager to open the casino as quickly as possible to begin bringing economic benefits and jobs to the state and region,” Catawba Chief Bill Harris said in a March press release.
The Chief’s statement was prophetic. Four months later, the Two Kings Casino employs roughly 250 people, 34 of which are Catawba Nation citizens.
As the project progresses, they expect to increase the number to 2,600 employees, along with construction jobs as the project is built, according to the Nation’s March press release.
The current, temporary facility is phase one of what will eventually be a $273 million casino, according to the same release. A more permanent casino facility will be built nearby with 1,300 slot machines. The 1,300 machine facility will eventually be a part of the finished, permanent casino. The construction for the 1,300 machine facility is expected to take a year, according to the press release.
“Catawba Two Kings Casino represents the righting of a historical wrong for the Catawba Nation,” Chief Harris said the day the facility opened on July 1. “But it is also so much more. It represents a prosperous future and renewed kinship between the Catawba Nation and the many communities that now occupy Catawba ancestral lands, including Kings Mountain, Cleveland County and the State of North Carolina,” Chief Harris continued in the statement.
The idea of a more prosperous future is also on the minds of some of the casino’s first employees, like Joshua Scruggs.
Scruggs, one of the casino’s first slot machine technicians, is usually hard at work during his shift at the 24-hour facility. Tasked with making sure the slot machines keep jingling, printing and operating correctly, Scruggs is rarely left bored.
“Generally, we’re opening these every day, we’ll have slot attendants get in here as well, for any kind of printer jam,” Scruggs said while showing the inside of one of the new machines.
Scruggs is two months into the job after taking a chance applying to be a slot technician at his brother’s suggestion. Both Scruggs and his brother are Catawba Nation citizens.
“I was in IT for a couple years beforehand, I’ve enjoyed working with networks and working with computers myself. I deal with them outside of here constantly, I work on my own computers at my own home. It’s a little bit of a passion project, basically,” Scruggs said about his personal experiences, which helped land him the job.
After his brother suggested he apply for a position at the casino, Scruggs landed the job and left to train for two weeks at a West Virginia casino, run by the company consulting Catawba Nation on running the project.
Scruggs said the new job and opportunities are a welcome benefit to Catawba Nation and its citizens.
“At least at the beginning it will be a little bit of hope to kind of get us running. I think after a while it will help get businesses started up in the community,” Scruggs said, adding he hopes some of the money from the casino helps the elderly in his community.
“I think it’s a good starting point,” Scruggs continued.
Catawba Nation has more than 3,500 enrolled citizens and is the only federally recognized tribe in the state of South Carolina, according to Catawba Nation.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows there is a 21% poverty rate among all people on Catawba Nation reservation lands in the Rock Hill area. The number is several percentage points higher when compared to a roughly 13% poverty rate across the Carolinas. The family poverty rate among Catawba Nation is roughly 15%, according to the same data.
It’s a number Trent Troxel hopes Catawba Two Kings Casino helps alleviate.
Troxel rolled the dice on joining the project a few months ago, leaving his 26 year job in textiles to take over as a vice president.
He called the decision an opportunity to come home.
“I kind of got emotional actually when the opportunity came up. It’s not only for me, but for other members of my nation, we get to come home now. We get to come and work for our people, we report to our people, and we take pride in that,” Troxel said.
So far, Troxel and Scruggs are two of the dozens of Catawba Nation members in various rolls at market-price paying jobs at the casino.
“We take pride in knowing at the end of the day, this is for Catawba, the Catawba Nation,” Troxel added.
Troxel was serving as a general manager in the textile industry for the last 10 years. When positions for the new casino opened up he knew he wanted to apply.
“I always said, if there was an opportunity for me to work for my tribe I would leave my job and come and work for my people,” Troxel said.
Now, he’s the vice president of the Catawba Nation Gaming Authority, with the goal of one day taking over as president.
Troxel said the casino project is a step in the right direction for growth in their communities.
“If we go back in history a little bit, the 1993 Settlement Act, there was a lot of people in our tribe who didn’t have running water or plumbing. So, yes, we were able to make improvements when we got the Settlement Act of ’93, but this puts us at a different level now,” Troxel said. “This gives opportunities for, say, our children that are going for— that are in college. When they come out of college they’re going to have jobs available now. Good paying jobs, that in the past we did not have here in the Nation.”
With the Settlement Act of 1993, “The Catawbas agreed to give up claims on land taken from them by the state of South Carolina. In return, the Catawba Indian Nation received federal recognition and $50 million for economic development, education, social services, and land purchases,” according to Catawba Nation.
Now, with this new project, Troxel is hopeful the Catawba Nation continues to have economic growth and a strong resource for jobs for future generations.
“This is going to change generations for generations to come. My grandchildren, my great grandchildren, my great great grandchildren, this is an economic boost for our nation,” Troxel said.