Catawba chief: Casinos viable economic strategy

dworthington@heraldonline.comAugust 28, 2013 

— The Catawba Indians are pursuing gambling casinos in South Carolina and North Carolina because of their success at other Indian nations, their chief said Wednesday.

“It is a strategy that allows tribes to diversity and generate economic opportunity,” said Chief Bill Harris of the York County-based Catawba Indian Nation.

Harris confirmed the tribe has discussed building a casino in Cleveland County, N.C.on the tribe’s aborginal land. He declined to release specifics, citing the confidential nature of economic development projects and because he has not discussed the proposal with tribal membership. He said he hopes to hold a tribal meeting soon.

The Catawbas also are awaiting a date before the state Supreme Court in their quest to build a casino/hotel complex on the tribal land in York County that they claim would generate millions of dollars in revenue and employ up to 4,000 people. The tribe hopes to have court date set by the end of the year.

The Catawbas argue they are entitled to the same gambling rights available to others in the state under the 1993 settlement they signed with the state. The state has maintained that 2005 law allowing casino gambling on boats that depart from South Carolina docks does not apply to the Catawbas.

Harris said the Catawbas, like other Indian nations, are pursuing gaming because of their economic options are limited and tribal unemployment is high. Harris estimated that are about 2,900 Catawbas with about 1,000 living on tribal land in eastern York County.

Harris said tribal unemployment is in double digits, but he did not have exact figures. Unemployment in York County is 8.2 percent in July while Rock Hill’s was at 10.1 percent.

Tribes with successful gambling operations include the Seminole and Miccosukee nations in Florida, Harris said. The Seminoles were the first federally recognized tribe to open gambling operations in 1979. They currently have three casinos. They also have used profits from casinos to diversify, buying the Hard Rock Cafe chain in 2006 for $965 million.

The Miccosukees have expanded beyond their slot machine and bingo operations to sponsor NASCAR teams and professional golf tournaments.

Harris said the Catawbas would reinvest profits from casinos into other ventures providing them money they need to address other tribal needs. “We would be more self sufficient,” he said.

The Catawbas also are pursing one gaming option available to them under the settlement – a high-stakes bingo parlor in Rock Hill.

The nation hopes to open a parlor at the former BI-LO store in the Northeast Plaza Shopping Center at Cherry and Anderson roads within the next six months.

The tribe operated a bingo parlor in Rock Hill from 1997 to 2006 when it closed the business, saying competition from the South Carolina Education Lottery affected its profits.

Harris said the highest payout at new the parlor would be $250,000 for specific games. The parlor would initially employ about 30 people, he said.

The Catawbas are awaiting the necessary permits from the city to open the bingo parlor.

Don Worthington •  803-329-4066

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