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Casino boosts giving

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By Solja Nygard Frangos

CHEROKEE, N.C. – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino is dealing a more than $5 million hand to nonprofits in Western North Carolina through the Cherokee Preservation Foundation and the United Way of Haywood County.

The casino, owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and managed by Harrah’s Entertainment, provides all funding for the foundation, or about $5 million this year.

The foundation, established by the band two years ago, uses the money to make grants to nonprofits that promote cultural and environmental preservation, economic development and employment in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties.

During its first grant cycle last fall, the foundation gave $2.1 million to nonprofits in the region, says Susan Jenkins, executive director.

Thanks to support from the casino, which does not disclose its profits or the share of profits it earmarks for the foundation, the foundation provides a new source of philanthropic dollars without having to compete with other local nonprofits for donations from area residents, says Pat Smith, executive director of the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina.

“Our region doesn’t have many resources so I am thrilled to see a foundation like this here,” says Smith.  

The casino, which employs 1,800 people, cost about $93 million and attracted 3.5 million visitors last year, also supports nonprofits by hosting a United Way workplace drive.

During its first drive last fall, the casino raised more than $16,300, about 3 percent of the campaign total for the United Way of Haywood County, says Beverly Westberry, former executive director of the United Way of Haywood County who retired in January.

“I think the casino could raise $50,000,” she says. “With time and experience, it can become an even much more important player in the philanthropic field.”

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