Politics & Government

Member of NC tribe set to lead Indian gaming commission

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. A member of a North Carolina Indian tribe moved closer to becoming chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission on Wednesday, passing through a Senate committee on a unanimous vote.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino. A member of a North Carolina Indian tribe moved closer to becoming chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission on Wednesday, passing through a Senate committee on a unanimous vote. cliddy@newsobserver.com

A member of a North Carolina Indian tribe moved closer to becoming chairman of the National Indian Gaming Commission on Wednesday, passing through a Senate committee on a unanimous vote.

E. Sequoyah Simermeyer, a member of the Coharie Tribe, is currently an associate commissioner for the NIGC, an independent federal agency responsible for regulating more than 500 gaming organizations operated by nearly 250 tribes around the country.

“He’s got a substantial body of experience relating to the National Indian Gaming Commission, and he’s going to have a well-rounded background to bring to this position,” said Scott Dacey, a Craven County commissioner and lobbyist for gaming interests.

The Coharie Tribe, which was first recognized by North Carolina in 1971, currently has more than 3,000 members. Approximately 80% live in tribal communities near the Little Coharie River in southeastern North Carolina’s Sampson and Harnett counties.

Simermeyer doesn’t live in North Carolina, but he visits the area regularly, tribal administrator Greg Jacobs told The Charlotte Observer on Wednesday. He received a bachelor’s degree at Dartmouth College and a master’s in Environmental Law from the Vermont Law School. He later directed Cornell University’s American Indian Center.

“Given his legal background, work experience, and current position at the NIGC, Mr. Simermeyer is well qualified for this appointment. I look forward to the moving his nomination to the full Senate for confirmation,” said Sen. John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican and chair of the Indian Affairs committee, in a statement after the vote.

Simermeyer’s nomination to a three-year term must be approved by the full Senate, which is scheduled to take its August recess beginning Friday. He testified before the Indian Affairs committee on July 24.

“Mr. Simermeyer’s nomination comes at a time when the gaming industry continues to rapidly evolve and expand,” said Sen. Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat and vice chair committee.

In May 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an act that limited sports gambling to a few states, most notably Nevada. Since then, several states have passed measures allowing sports betting.

North Carolina lawmakers passed a law in July allowing for sports betting and horse wagering at Indian casinos. The approved games could generate more than $1 million for the state each year, McClatchy reported in July.

In western N.C., the Cherokee runs two casinos — in Cherokee and Valley River — that plan to open sportsbooks this fall once construction is complete.

But in South Carolina, the Catawba Indian Nation has been unable to open a gaming establishment.

Instead, the Catawba tribe is attempting to benefit from the N.C. law and build a casino near Interstate 85 in N.C. But it received significant pushback from N.C. lawmakers, the Associated Press reported in June.

Before the vote, Udall said he hoped Simermeyer could open opportunities for all tribes.

“I’m hopeful that Mr. Simermeyer will use his position to ensure that tribes are not left behind. This is particularly important in terms of ensuring states act in good faith to negotiate compacts with tribes,” Udall said.

In fiscal year 2017, tribal gaming revenues were approximately $32.4 billion in gross gaming revenue, according to the committee. The commission has more than 100 employees and is paid for by fees collected on gaming revenue.

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