Is a casino coming to Sevier County?

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Since the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians announced plans to purchase nearly 400 acres of land in Sevier County, many have wondered if a casino was in the works.

Sevier County Bureau Chief Kyle Grainger took questions about that purchase to the Principal Chief Richard Sneed.

He said right now, a casino is not possible.

"Obviously, Tennessee doesn't have gaming, so we can't enter into any type of commercial arrangement. As far as tribal gaming, it's a very arduous process to take land into trust for the purpose of gaming," said Sneed.

He said it could take years before anything is built on two pieces of property located at the 407 exit on I-40. He said the talk of a casino is common anytime they purchase property.

"That's always a discussion, every time the eastern band or any other tribe that does gaming purchases property, the rumor is 'they're going to build a casino.' I think that comes from a lack of understanding of how difficult that is to do," said Sneed. "Obviously there's a tremendous traffic count there at that exit, 407. So our buildable land here (in Cherokee) just based on the topography is not great. So we're looking to diversify our revenue streams outside of gaming."

Sneed said the decision to purchase this property was simply the right location at the right price. He also said the Cherokee want to diversify their revenue outside of gaming. He said they've discussed many ideas including retail space and a hotel plus convention center.

He said a casino has been beneficial to Cherokee. It has provided for year round tourism and jobs for thousands.

"We have the ability to provide excellent employment opportunities for our people. We've become the largest employer in the region. We're the largest employer west of Asheville. We employ over 4,000 people between our casino and our travel jobs."

With all options on the table, including a casino, Sneed says there's still a lot to do before a decision is made. He did say, if the state changes the current laws that ban casinos, they want to be in the mix.

"To put peoples mind at ease as far as gaming goes, if the citizens of Tennessee make the decision to enter into commercial gaming, we certainly want to be positioned for that."

The tribe has purchased 142 acres adjacent to the Tennessee Smokies baseball complex. They recently voted to purchase the former Dumplin Creek property which is 196 acres.

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