Worried the very name could damage Hilton Head Island's image, town council voted 6-1 Tuesday to oppose an Indian casino inside Head Lakes in Jasper County.
"I don't want to negatively affect our neighbors,' " Councilman Lee Edwards said, "(but) we've spent years building up the Hilton Head brand... (If its built) everyone in the world will be talking about the casino in Hilton Head Lakes. Not the Hardeeville or Lowcountry casino. It's, 'Let's go to Hilton Head and go to the casino.' "
Mayor Drew Laughlin said he, too, worried the casino, located within a 4,700-acre residential community along U.S. 278 in Hardeeville, would dilute the island's marketing campaign as a family-friendly resort destination for affluent travelers and retirees.
The casino would be part of a larger resort complex.
Edwards added that it was bad enough the island's name has been co-opted by the Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport and Sun City Hilton Head.
That prompted Councilman Bill Ferguson, the sole dissentling vote, to question why council didn't go a step further and "oppose all businesses that use the name Hilton Head."
Ferguson argued the casino would bring much needed jobs, income and tax revenue to the area, including residents on Hilton Head, "who still need a livelihood."
Casino backers claim the development would create 2,250 on-site jobs and more than 4,000 statewide.
Council also argued a casino would increase traffic on U.S. 278 and at exit 8 on Interstate 95, making it more difficult for visitors to get to the island, particularly during the summer. Members also worried the casino might create more crime and gambling addiction that could lead to drug and alcohol abuse, suicide, domestic violence, bankruptcy and family stress.
Jill Jauch, advertising and marketing manager for the New River Auto Mall in Hardeeville, called council's move hypocritical.
"You say you're open for business, but it doesn't sound like it," Jauch said on behalf the auto mall's owner. "This resolution is very anti-business. A casino would bring much needed sales and employment tax revenue into the state. ... It's disappointing and shocking to see a local government speak out against development of this level in this economy."
Laughlin and other council members said that while they understand the need for more jobs and business in Jasper County,a casino is not the sort of industry suitable for the region, echoing previous comments made by Gov. Nikki Haley.
Council emphasized it only opposes the casino portion of the complex, which would also include restaurants, shops and a convention center.
Haley has opposed the complex since it was first proposed in January. The development's leaders hope to formally present their plans to her by the end of the year.
The casino, which would be owned by Cherokee Indians, requires the governor's sign-off to move forward. Should she approve, the 50-acre complex would then be considered by the federal Department of the Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs.
Hardeeville city manager and casino proponent Bob Nanni was surprised by the Hilton Head resolution, but reiterated that "our plans will not be changed."
"Just because the Town Council is against, it doesn't mean the citizens are," Nanni said by phone Tuesday.
Reporter Grant Martin contributed to this report.
- Casino backers rebuffed, cut off at Hilton Head Republican luncheon: May 7, 2012
- Casino developers optimistic despite opposition from Haley, others: April 21, 2012
- Developers unveil rendering of proposed Hardeeville casino complex, Feb. 29, 2012