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Judge Rules Catawba's Can Operate Video Poker

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Catawba Indian Nation can open a video poker operation on its reservation, a judge ruled Tuesday.

“But Catawba leaders will give up that right if state legislators allow the tribe to open a high-stakes electronic bingo operation in Orangeburg County, said tribal attorney Jay Bender.

“If legislators don't agree, the tribe will exercise its right to bring video poker to the York County reservation, Bender said. But nothing will happen before the General Assembly reconvenes Jan. 10, he said.

“Attorney General Henry McMaster said the tribe is using the judge's decision and the threat of video poker as ‘leverage’ for its bingo request. This is ‘an unsavory tactic,’ McMaster said.

“‘It's not a bluff. It's the economic survival of the tribe that's at issue here,’ Bender said. ‘What I hope will happen is that the leadership of the state will recognize the unique economic opportunity for the tribe and the state’ with the Orangeburg County operation, which would be near Santee.

“Judge Joseph Strickland of Columbia was asked to decipher the 1993 land-claim settlement that granted the tribe the right to a gambling operation on its tribal property.

“The 1993 settlement recognized the Catawbas as a limited-sovereign Indian nation and allowed the tribe to open two bingo sites.

“That agreement also granted the tribe the right to operate video poker on the reservation, the tribe's attorneys have said.

“South Carolina banned video poker in 2000 because opponents believed it was highly addictive and led to higher rates of robberies, alcoholism and personal financial problems.

“Strickland, a master-in-equity, ruled Tuesday the tribe can operate video poker or similar devices on the reservation regardless of state law.

“The attorney general's office will appeal the decision, McMaster said in a press release..."

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