Catawbas ask Supreme Court to review case

The Catawba Indian Nation is taking its fight for video poker to the nation's highest court.

Members of the York County-based tribe have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review a case considered critical to their economic survival.

In March, the S.C. Supreme Court ruled the tribe may not offer video gambling on its reservation because it would violate a state law passed in 2000 that outlawed the games. The tribe planned all along to appeal to the high court if that step became necessary.

The Catawbas, the only federally recognized tribe in South Carolina, sued in 2005 for the right to offer video gambling, arguing that their 1993 land deal with the state allowed such gambling.

However, South Carolina banned video gambling in 2000. The state contends that the 14-year-old land deal means the tribe's reservation falls under state, not federal, gambling laws.

The Supreme Court must first decide whether to hear the case.

"I don't even think it should've went that far," said tribal member Dean Canty. "It's already what's written in our settlement. We're just having a fight on our hands from the state. We're going to keep pushing it."

Bargaining chip

The tribe has said it doesn't necessarily want to put video gambling machines on its reservation east of Rock Hill. Instead, the Catawbas wanted to use the court's ruling as a bargaining chip to build a high-stakes bingo parlor along Interstate 95.

Critics have said that allowing bingo in Orangeburg County would open the door to more high-stakes bingo locations elsewhere in the state.

Not all Catawbas agree with pursuing a resolution through the courts. Instead, some believe the tribe would be better off working with federal lawmakers to get video poker allowed under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act.

"Any time you fight anything through the courts, it's a long battle," said tribal member Bill Harris. "I'd go back before Congress. South Carolina is going to put up a lot of roadblocks."

The Catawbas say the dispute is critical because their former bingo hall on Cherry Road in Rock Hill lost money after the state began an education lottery in 2002.

The Catawbas have since sold the hall and the surrounding property, formerly the old Rock Hill Mall, to a development group now building a Super Bi-Lo on the site.