Since Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee, North Carolina opened in 1997, it has brought considerable political power and vital jobs to the once-economically depressed Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Said Vice Chief Larry Blythe, “It has put us at the table. I would say that we’ve always been recognized and listened to as an important tourist destination. But the political influence? We didn’t have the influence we have now.”
Whereas in the past, the tribe was seen as politically insignificant and, as a result, tribal leaders were unable to make political connections, now the Cherokee have the wherewithal to hire the top lobbyists in the state and nation, Blythe said. “Lobbyists can open doors, and we can truly now step through them. And we can go en masse, and we can go in force,” he said.
The changes the casino has brought to the Cherokee tribe have been profound, said retired University of Tennessee at Knoxville professor and Cherokee scholar John Finger. “I’ve seen the tribe become more economically prosperous, the end result of both the tourist and gaming industries. They seem much more in tune with modern American business and life,” he said. Prior to the casino, tribal members feared it would diminish the tribe’s interest in its culture. However, Finger says, the casino has had the reverse effect. “The casino has made them more aware of their status as Indians, particularly Cherokee Indians,” he said.
The casino also offers upward mobility to employees. Many in management positions at the casino are tribal members who rose through the ranks. “Opportunities abound within our organization. There are people doing things that are beyond their wildest aspirations when they started at this organization,” said General Manager Darold Londo. When speaking to new hires, he frequently tells them, “I want you to look back in five years and see this as the defining moment in your professional career.”
And tribal casino employees also have an extra incentive to make sure guests are happy: they earn a share of casino profits, which topped $7,000 last year for each of the tribe’s 14,000 members. “You do your job well, guests are happy, they stay longer and play more, the casino makes more money, and per-cap checks are higher,” said employee trainer Al Lossiah.
“That’s Harrah’s financial strategy. We treat you well, you are satisfied; you take that to the guests, treat them well, we have job security and financial success,” Lossiah said.