With the opening of Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy, North Carolina on September 28th the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has bolstered their economic independence and ability to take care of their members through self determination. In addition to the new ‘day trip’ casino (that includes a hotel) the tribe has been successfully operating Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort (pictured) in association with Caesars Entertainment since the 1990’s.

What started as humble beginnings in 1997 with just video poker on the Qualla Boundary in North Carolina, when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians joined the tribal gaming industry, has become a saving grace for the tribe whose headquarters is just east of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The state’s first major casino and the result of nearly a decade of negotiations between tribal, state and federal officials, gaming revenue from Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, operated by Caesars Entertainment, represents almost half of the tribe’s budget. That revenue has made paying for services and programs that are essential to the tribal community possible, and in recent years has enabled the tribe to begin construction on a $13 million residential treatment facility in addition to several other health service based facilities and housing.

Also made possible by the revenue is the tribe’s new 155,000-square-foot $80 million replacement hospital right next door to the Cherokee Indian Hospital which the tribe took over administration of in 2002 from the federal government. In addition the tribe’s 15,000 enrolled members benefit from per capita payments sent out every six months derived from half of the gaming revenue that is received by the tribal council; the other half is allocated to infrastructure and operations. Chief Michell Hicks said those payments have recently ascended to “north of $9,000” a year, according to the Daily Yonder.

While the bi-annual payments are not always seen as sustainable, according to a study by Duke University of Medicine’s Professor Elizabeth Jane Costello, the money has had a direct positive impact on the lives of the reservation’s children. In February 2014 testimony to the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Costello wrote, “Four years before the supplement, children in these families had high levels of anxiety, depression, and conduct problems; four years after the supplement began, levels were no higher than those of children who were never poor.”

In addition to the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, the tribe operates the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel in Murphy which opened on September 28, and is projected to receive upwards of $10 million in gaming revenues next year.