The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) push to reverse the agreed purchase of Caesars Casino Southern Indiana. If done, the deal would have pushed the EBCI into the Indiana gambling community and give them ownership of one of the popular casinos in the state.
Nevada-Based Caesars Entertainment agreed on the sale of Caesars Casino Southern Indiana in mid-December for a price of $250 million. However, tribe members are now looking to reverse the sale, claiming Tribal Charter Violations.
Tribe members have questioned the legality of the meeting called to decide on the sale as well as how the tribe plans fund the purchase of the Indiana casino. This has also included concerns over the lack of control the tribe will have over the company formed to buy the venture.
With the Cherokees reporting a reduction in gaming revenue, it raised concerns as to whether this is a good investment. The global pandemic has impacted casinos across the country. So many assume it will be the same with casinos in Indiana. Therefore, the EBCI worry about using tribe monies for such an uncertain purchase.
With uncertainty around rising COVID-19 numbers, it is unknown when the Tribe Council will gather to hear the protest.
Caesars Entertainment Needs to Sell Indiana Casinos
Caesars Southern Indiana Casino is currently owned by Caesars Entertainment. The company, founded in 1996, is currently headquartered in Reno, Nevada. It currently owns and operates over 50 world-class resorts.
In July Caesars merged with Eldorado Resorts. Following this deal, the Indiana Gaming Commission ordered Caesars to sell three of its five casinos to follow Indiana gambling law.
Caesars decided to sell its Evansville and Hammond casinos in Indiana alongside Caesars Southern Indiana Casino that is based in Elizabeth, IN.
The Potential Buyer: The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians
The Cherokees tribe is considered a sovereign nation which has its own laws, elections, government and institutions. The tribe already owns two casinos in North Carolina. Thus acquiring Caesars Southern Indiana Casino would be their third. Still, its only venture with casinos in Indiana and the Indiana gambling community.
The purchase of Caesars Indiana is part of the tribe’s ongoing effort to diversify its income streams to try and mitigate competition to EBCI’s other gambling operations in North Carolina. The current agreement is an expansion of an existing partnership with Caesars Entertainment.
Caesars Southern Indiana Casino
Caesars Southern Indiana Casino was previously known as Horseshoe Southern Indiana and moved into its new $85 million land-based building on December 12, 2019. The move retired a 20-year-old riverboat with the new venue offering 100,000-square-feet of gambling space. Like most casinos in Indiana, Caesars Indiana offers slot machines, table games, poker and rooms for dining and entertainment. This also includes a food hall with various fast food options steps away from the gaming floor. It is one of the ten land-based casinos in Indiana
The casino is part of the Indiana gambling community which expanded in 2019 when state law made online gambling legal. Information on Indiana online gambling, including Indiana sports betting apps and casinos can be found on BestAppBet. It also includes bonuses, special offers and more states where gambling is legal.
The Agreed Purchase
The announcement of the deal came ahead of Caesars Entertainment’s December 31 deadline to separate from the Indiana casino. The parties agreed to a $250 million deal with $130 million upfront from tribal monies. Furthermore, the newly created EBCI Holdings LLC (Limited Liability Company) would finance the remaining cost through a loan. This would mean the tribe would own Caesars Southern Indiana gambling operation but not the land.
After the deal would have completed, the Cherokees would have entered a new lease with VICI Properties Inc. who owns the land. The annual payments would be $32.5 million.
In a news release the Chief Richard Sneed of the EBCI had this to say: “The purchase of Caesars Southern Indiana operating company marks the beginning of an exciting new future for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. We are pleased to build upon our long-standing partnership with Caesars as we look to advance our interests in commercial gaming in the coming years.”
Along with the Indiana casino, the tribe will keep all use of the Caesars branding and Caesars Rewards loyalty program with the transaction projected to close in the third business quarter of 2021.
Caesars Indiana is expected earn $40 million annually before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. Yet, state laws on Indiana gambling and casinos in Indiana mean that the LLC may only remit 25% of the profits back to the tribe each year.
Sneed, however, said that any proceeds above the 25% could be used to purchase other gaming enterprises including any casinos in Indiana. The LLC’s assets would also be accessible if the tribe chose to dissolve it.
Concerns raised regarding the purchase
A group of the Cherokees tribe have claimed the meeting and the vote to buy Caesars Indiana on December 17 meeting violated the tribe’s Charter and Governing, the tribe’s highest law.
Tribal law allows “interested parties” to protest any decision of Tribal Council provided they do so within 10 calendar days of the decision being final.
“Interested parties” are defined as anyone with a direct financial stake in the outcome of the decision or with property interests that will suffer due to the decision.
The tribe had been discussing the purchase of the Indiana casino since Nov. 5 when Chief Sneed posted a video discussing the casinos in Indiana and the potential. On Nov. 12 the Tribal Council approved a resolution authorizing Sneed to move forward with the due diligence process.
On Dec. 15 a resolution which would have allowed Sneed to enter into a purchasing agreement to buy Caesars Indiana was tabled by the Council. Two days later, in an open meeting the resolution was approved. However, this meeting wasn’t streamed as expected.
Some tribe members felt the vote to purchase the Indiana casino was hasty and with not enough time for Council Members to absorb the final version of the document. The final version of the management agreement was handed over on the day of the vote. The decision to buy won by a slim majority of 49-44.
Chief Sneed Still Defends the Plan
The protest believes the special meeting called on Dec.17 was an unauthorized session of the Tribal Council with a purchase of the Indiana gambling business not defined as an emergency. Those who object to the deal also point to an alleged violation of Section 16 of the charter. This, due to profits from the Indiana casino not distributed on a per capita basis. In addition, the LLC set up to oversee Caesars Indiana “is not controlled or in any way under the control of the EBCI and Tribal Council.”
However Principal Chief Richard Sneed has defended the plan, saying the purchase of the Indiana casino is in the tribe’s best interest and was vetted by elected officials, staff and consultants alike.
In response to the concerns regarding the purchase of Caesars Southern Indiana Casino, Chief Sneed said: “My track record shows that I am here to serve EBCI tribal citizens and my faith in the validity of this project sustains despite this protest,” he said in a statement to the press. “I am happy to speak with any tribal citizen that has concerns about this project as I fully believe it is the best next step forward in the EBCI’s larger economic diversification plan to sustain tribal programs and services in years to come.”
With surging COVID-19 numbers it is unclear when the Tribe Council will hear the protest regarding the purchase the Caesars Indiana. But it is now uncertain whether the Cherokees tribe will become owners of one of the land-based casinos in Indiana and make the move into the Indiana gambling community.
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