Keetowa Indians Take Second Look at Casino

By Paul Gable

An Indian tribe that considered building a casino in Horry County several years ago is now looking at a location in Hardeeville, S.C. for the state’s first full gambling casino.

The United Keetowa Band of Cherokee Indians is planning to build a large gambling and entertainment complex just off Interstate 280 in Jasper County near Hardeeville, according to a report by the Associated Press news service. The complex would include a 400 room hotel, gambling casino and 2,500 seat event center.

According to the report, the Hardeeville City Council approved a resolution Thursday night to move forward with the project.

The Keetowas were a tribe native to South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee that was forced to move to Florida with the Cherokees in the early 19th Century and ultimately were resettled to Oklahoma during the presidency of Andrew Jackson. They have been considered one of the three eastern Cherokee nations since the move to Florida.

With no specific land of their own, the Keetowas, under federal law, can open a casino on land they own in any state, subject to approval from that state’s governor and in accordance with local zoning laws.

When the Hard Rock Theme Park closed its doors in September 2008, representatives of the Keetowas met with Horry County officials to discuss zoning and the possibility of opening a gambling casino on the grounds of the former Hard Rock Park.

The plans did not move forward because then Gov. Mark Sanford refused to give his approval for a gambling casino in the state.

Now back and with the apparent approval of local Hardeeville officials, only Gov. Nikki Haley’s approval stands in the way of the project. According to published reports, Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey said Haley has no intention of agreeing to a deal that would allow casino gambling.

Also in the casino gambling mix is a bill introduced into the S.C. General Assembly last year by Democratic representatives Boyd Brown and Bakari Sellers. The two legislators still have hopes to form a coalition of Democrats and libertarian Republicans that would move the bill to approval. It would require a constitutional amendment referendum by S.C. voters to become law.

The bill would allow individual county governments to determine what, if any, level of gambling they want to permit within county borders. Hardeeville and Jasper County officials seem inclined to move forward with casino gambling.

Should the complex come to fruition, it would provide a significant boost for year around tourism on Hilton Head and Tybee Island, Ga. as well Savannah, Ga., possibly at the expense of Myrtle Beach.



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