The high-stakes bingo parlor the Catawba Indian Nation plans to open on Cherry Road would be an updated and upgraded version of the one it operated from 1997 to 2006. We hope the new version is a success.
The tribe opened its first bingo venue, called 500 Nations, in 1997 at the site of the Rock Hill Mall, also on Cherry Road. While that operation at first attracted thousands of customers, including elderly players bused to the site from area retirement centers, business gradually tapered off. The Catawbas blamed the S.C. Education Lottery for siphoning off business, but that was just one of several factors.
The shutdown of other stores at the mall and the deterioration of the property also played a central role.
Under the tribe’s 1993 settlement agreement with local, state and federal governments, the Catawbas have a right to operate up to two bingo halls in South Carolina, including one in York County. While the tribe clearly has the right to operate bingo parlors under the agreement, the Catawbas have tried several legal feints in recent years to open casinos, which would feature a variety of electronic gambling similar to the machines used in casinos operated by Indian tribes in other states.
South Carolina lawmakers have steadfastly opposed allowing the Catawbas to open a casino or establish offshore gambling on cruise ships. We agree with opponents that this would be tantamount to reintroducing the scourge of video gambling to South Carolina.
Video gambling has been effectively banned from the state, and we hope lawmakers continue to thwart efforts to exploit legal loopholes to bring it back, whether the venue is an Indian casino or a single electronic game at a mom-and-pop restaurant.
But the Catawba’s planned bingo hall, slated to open in March, is not a casino or a big room full of video games. It is traditional high-stakes bingo with prizes up to $100,000.
The tribe has signed a lease for a 45,500-square-foot building in the North East Plaza shopping center near Interstate 77 at the corner of Cherry and Anderson roads. The space previously was occupied by a Bi-Lo grocery store that closed after a larger Bi-Lo was opened down the street.
The bingo hall will join the most recently opened business in the shopping center – Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen – which is on the site of the former Firebonz restaurant. Popeyes demolished that building and built a new one.
The center also features a Verizon Wireless store, hair and nail salons, and shipping and financial businesses. The Catawbas plan extensive renovations to the building in which the bingo hall will be located.
Tribal planners hope the parlor will bring in thousands of customers a day and that the operation will serve as an economic boost for the tribe. We hope that is the case.
The tribe, which has much higher unemployment than the rest of the county, needs an economic shot in the arm and employment opportunities for its members. Catawba leaders have not speculated on how many jobs the bingo hall might create, but it seems likely to produce a considerable number of service jobs.
In opening the new bingo parlor, the Catawbas are following both the letter and spirit of the 1993 settlement agreement. Here’s hoping it pays off handsomely for them.