Michelle Liu
Associated Press

The federal government has approved a revenue-sharing agreement between the Catawba Indian Nation and the state of North Carolina that clears the way for a casino near the state’s southern border.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs signed off on the compact last week, the Catawba tribe said in a news release Thursday.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper inked the deal with the Rock Hill, South Carolina-based tribe in January, paving the way for Las Vegas-style gaming at Kings Mountain, about a half hour west of Charlotte. The Catawba tribe has said the planned $273 million resort would bring thousands of jobs to North Carolina.

The tribe held a groundbreaking for the casino in July and expects an introductory gaming facility to be up and running by the end of the year, spokesperson Laney Buckley said Thursday.

Under the agreement, the tribe will pay up to 8 percent of gaming revenues to the state.

Casino revenues will also go toward an environmental conservation education fund, employment opportunities on and near Catawba lands and other community initiatives, the tribe has said.

North Carolina currently has two casinos, both operated by the Eastern Band of the Cherokees, in the southwestern corner of the state.

The Eastern Band sued the Catawbas and the Interior Department in federal court last year to try to stop the new casino. The suit, which is still pending, claims political pressure from South Carolina developer Wallace Cheves prompted the government to clear the way for the casino without congressional approval.

Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Principal Chief Richard Sneed said they are "disappointed by not surprised by the Department of Interior’s approval of the Catawba’s compact with North Carolina."

"This approval stems from the DOI’s original illegal act to take land into trust and force an unwanted casino on North Carolina, a decision that we continue to challenge in federal court," Sneed said in a statement. "We believe the facts are clear and that the court will invalidate this illegal casino and along with it, this compact.”

In addition to the casino, Cheves is planning to build nearly 600 homes and luxury apartments opposite the casino on the other side of Interstate 85.

The Catawbas have said they have a right to the land for the casino based on a 1993 agreement that gave them federal recognition. The tribe points out that it has long had historical and ancestral ties to land in North Carolina.

But the Cherokees have called the Catawbas’ efforts “a modern-day land grab” and that, per the legal process, the government is supposed to follow to acquire trust land for the Catawba tribe, that land must be in South Carolina. Strict laws in South Carolina prohibit most forms of gambling in the state.

The land for the proposed casino is 35 miles northwest of the Catawba reservation in upstate South Carolina.

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Indian Country Today contributed to this report. 

Liu is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.