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Cherokee casino preparing for Vegas-style gaming

The bright lights and fancy machines highlight what you'll find right now at Harrah's Cherokee Casino.

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And before the end of the year - if everything gets approved - you'll also be seeing live card games.

It's part of a new agreement with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the state of North Carolina, allowing the tribe to expand its current digital games to the more traditional cards and roulette wheels. This means a lot of preparation. It also means more jobs.

"We are looking for folks who are interested in becoming dealers, and we're also looking for experienced dealers and supervisors for tables," said Jo Blaylock, Vice President of Human Resources and Community Relations at Harrah's Cherokee Casino. "But additionally, we're looking for support staff, security officers, marketing people, beverage servers."

Exactly how many jobs? Cherokee's Principal Chief Michell Hicks said between the hiring they've made already, and what they're looking for now, the casino will be home to 650 new jobs by the end of the year. And he said there's even more hiring that will happen with future projects.

The plan for the casino?

"A full blown casino, which will have blackjack, roulette and baccarat - you know, those games that you would typically find in Vegas or Atlantic City," Hicks said.

All this hiring activity comes as a result of a compact the tribe made with North Carolina earlier this year. While it allows live gaming, it also allows for two more casinos in western North Carolina. Hicks said there is already land being considered for additional casinos in Graham County's Snowbird community and in the Cherokee County town of Marble. He also said those projects will be smaller in scale than the Cherokee casino.

Hicks wants to make the Cherokee Indian Reservation the first choice for travelers.

"With the retail, with the restaurants, now that we have the golf course, and of course the spa, we have all the pieces of a destination resort," he said.

And the new casinos, if and when they get built, will be in counties seeing high unemployment rates. The National Bureau of Labor Statistics said the unemployment rate for Cherokee County, NC is right now at 13.3 percent, and Graham County is at 18.5 percent.  

Hicks told FOX Carolina he wants to give people jobs in those high-unemployment areas, adding that with great success, comes great responsibility to the region. But he's also concerned with the success of the people he serves.

"Without this resource, I don't know where Cherokee would be today. Cherokee would likely be continuing to be a struggling tribe," he said.

The new casinos, should they come to fruition, are still several years off. Live gaming, however, is not. The compact has been approved by the state and is waiting for federal approval. Hicks said that will likely come in August.

In the meantime, Harrah's Cherokee Casino is now taking applications for the hundreds of open positions available.

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