A look inside the new Catawba bingo hall in Rock Hill

The Catawba Indian Nation returns to the business of bingo in Rock Hill on Saturday.

First game at the new hall on Cherry Road is 2 p.m. and the action won’t stop for 12 hours. There is no admission charge. Payouts range from $499 to $3,500. Players must be 18 years or older.

It will be first time since 2006 that the tribe has offered bingo in York County.

The tribe’s first hall, at the former Rock Hill mall on Cherry Road, was part of the tribe’s 1993 settlement agreement over land claims with the federal and state government leaders. The settlement allows the tribe to operate two high-stakes bingo locations.

The first bingo hall opened in December 1997 and closed in 2006 amid allegations of mismanagement and tax problems with the state.

“There was a big hoopla when it opened. Then it was OK, and then it was too secretive,” said tribal member Teresa Harris of the old site.

For the new hall to succeed, Harris said, there needs to be more transparency, “everything handled correctly and more tribal involvement.”

The tribe renovated a former Bi-Lo grocery store into a 1,300-seat bingo hall at an estimated cost of $365,000. The hall is currently set up for about 500 players.

About 15 tribal members are employed at the hall and more could be hired, said tribal Chief Bill Harris.

Catawba Bingo will offer “high-stakes” bingo, with jackpots up to $100,000. Tribal leaders have said the high-stakes games will not be offered opening day. High payoffs would be “pre-sold before they happen,” Chief Harris has said.

Players can play electronically or use paper bingo cards. The cost for cards varies by the amount purchased. Electronic machines can be rented during the afternoon sessions for $10 for 45 different cards per game up to $30 for 180 cards. The evening prices range from $20 to $60 for the electronic machines.

Paper cards are for sale at $10 in the afternoon and $15 in the evening. Prices are for a 10-game program.

The hall will be open from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday, and Sunday from 3 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Luanne Stall, the hall’s general manager, acknowledged bingo is a form of gambling. She also stressed that Catawba bingo is far from the stereotypical “dirty, rundown, smoke-filled building.”

No smoking is allowed in the Cherry Road hall. There are no alcohol sales, and the hall has state-of-the-art equipment.

Catawba Bingo wants to create a family atmosphere, she said.

A subsidiary of the company assisting the Catawba Indian Nation in its efforts to open a gambling casino is managing the tribe’s bingo operations in Northeast Plaza at 2375 Cherry Road.

Catawba Management LLC is part of Sky Boat LLC, the company the Catawbas selected to pursue both casino gambling and bingo, Chief Harris said.

Sky Boat is led by Wallace Cheves, who has ties to video poker, riverboat gambling and other forms of gaming.

Chief Harris said Thursday the tribe’s efforts to put land in a tribal trust for a casino in Kings Mountain, N.C., are being reviewed by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

The tribe’s efforts to open a casino at its York County reservation east of Rock Hill were blocked by the South Carolina Supreme Court, which ruled state laws that ban video poker apply on the reservation.

Chief Harris said the tribe sees the bingo hall and possible casino as economic development efforts to raise funds for current and future tribal projects. If the bingo hall profits exceed tribal programs’ needs it is possible individual tribe members could share in the profits, he said.

Harris, who said he didn’t play at the former bingo site, said he will play Saturday.