Catawba bingo set to open this weekend - WBTV 3 News, Weather, Sports, and Traffic for Charlotte, NC

Catawba bingo set to open this weekend

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ROCK HILL, SC (WBTV) -

Bingo went away for the Catawba Nation over the last few years. However, a change in the leadership has the expectation of new games surviving and thriving.

Bright balls are dancing high in the hopper, but a single number officially has yet to be called. Inside an old Bi-Lo on Cherry Road, a dress rehearsal is underway for the second run of Catawba Bingo.

Chief Bill Harris heads up Catawba Nation which has just under three thousand members. He said, "There are approximately 100 bingo halls in the state of South Carolina. What makes ours unique is we have the ability to offer high stakes."

Chief Harris remembers a similar promise back in 1997. That's when the Catawba's converted the old Rock Hill into a bingo hall, but critics say many of these players were lured away by the state lottery.

"So we're looking at a difference in the market," Harris said. "So when class three came in it became the game in town. So people went to class three and that was the state lottery."

While tribal leaders contend big time bingo may offer economic development, the South Carolina General Assembly has a solid wing of those who oppose gambling.

State Senator Wes Hayes of Rock Hill offers one of the loudest voices.

"I think gambling will always be an ongoing battle," the senator said.

That's not what merchants in this strip mall where the games played hope to hear. Two doors down from the Bingo Hall is Luigi and Sons.

The Italian restaurant has been withering on the vine since the Bi-Lo which is the bingo hall shut down five years ago.

Roberta Wilde works there as a waitress. "The shopping center is dead. We've closed an extra day because it slowed us down," she said.

But can bingo deliver the goods to community in need of an economic shot in the arm? Chief Harris offers this sales pitch.

"We're back. We're here to stay and we're gonna offer a good product, and we want everybody to come enjoy."

The first games begin on Saturday, and before the weekend is over pay outs are expected to be in the range of 30 thousand dollars.

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