Opinion

Catawba bingo hopes

The plan to include a high-stakes bingo hall run by the Catawba Indian tribe in an entertainment complex in Marion County could be boon for both the tribe and the county.

The Ca- tawbas are one step closer to making the plan a reality after the Marion County Council gave final approval this month to allowing gaming at the complex. The 250-acre Carolina Entertainment Complex, which already features an amphitheater, also would include a new RV park, water park, hotel, equestrian facility and adult-living facility.

This would be the second bingo operation run by the Catawbas, but the first one offering high-stakes bingo. The first Catawba Bingo hall on Cherry Road in Rock Hill closed last year for lack of business.

Tribal officials had hoped to open a high-stakes bingo operation on Interstate 95 near Orangeburg. But that proposal hit a snag because the tribe wanted to install electronic bingo machines that allow gamblers to play multiple games in a short time. A number of state legislators, including state Sen. Wes Hayes, R-Rock Hill, pledged to block any attempt to re-establish electronic gambling in the state, which has been banned since 2000.

The bingo hall in Marion County would offer high-stakes payoffs but would be traditional bingo, not electronic bingo.

The plan still must have the approval of the S.C. Department of Revenue, and the Catawbas have not cemented plans with developers of the complex. So, it is far from a done deal.

Nonetheless, the proposal shows promise for both the tribe and Marion County. A high-stakes bingo hall would give tourists a reason to stop just outside the city of Marion on their way to and from the Grand Strand. The $500 million complex would provide much-needed jobs for the economically distressed county.

Many county residents make the grueling commute to hospitality jobs in the Grand Strand. Still, the county's unemployment rate in June was 11.4 percent, second-highest in the state and double the state average of 5.5 percent. County officials hope the new complex will bring in money and hundreds of new jobs.

A new high-stakes bingo operation also could be an economic shot in the arm for the Catawbas. This location appears to be well situated to attract beach-bound tourists who also could be lured by the other attractions at the site.

The Catawbas have been mired in legal battles over its plan to open a bingo hall in Orangeburg. We hope this plan will be part of a larger renewal for the tribe, which recently elected new leadership, and that the new bingo hall will prosper.

IN SUMMARY

The Catawba Indian Nation's hopes for a new bingo operation are moving forward.

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