U.S. Supreme Court rejects Catawba bid for video poker

By Bruce Smith
Charleston, South Carolina (AP) 9-07

The Catawba Nation suffered another setback Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court rejected the South Carolina tribe’s bid to have video poker machines on their reservation.

The U.S. Supreme Court refused, without comment, to hear the tribe’s appeal of a South Carolina Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that a state ban on video poker applies to tribal lands.

The tribe had contended its 1993 land settlement with the state entitled them to have video poker, although the machines were outlawed statewide seven years ago.

The state claimed the land deal subjects the tribe to state gambling laws.

The tribe has said it didn’t necessarily want video gambling machines on its reservation in York County. But it hoped a favorable court ruling could be a bargaining chip in efforts to build a high-stakes bingo parlor in Santee, between Columbia and Charleston along Interstate 95.

Tribe attorney Jay Bender said the Catawbas will continue their decade-long effort to open a high-stakes bingo parlor.

“The tribe has to find economic development activities within the artificial constraints imposed by the state,” Bender said.

The Catawbas have met opposition to a bingo hall in Santee and earlier, in North Myrtle Beach.

Bender said the settlement agreement allows high-stakes bingo in two locations in the state. One has to be on the tribe’s 144,000 acres and the other needs approval by local governments.

He said the tribe is still interested in Santee and there is interest among people in Marion County to locate a bingo hall there.

The Supreme Court’s action will end the legal maneuvering over video poker, Bender said.

“At every opportunity the state has tried to trim back what it agreed to give the tribe to get the land claim settled. I guess in my cynical evaluation I have continued to believe that screwing Indians is still public policy in South Carolina,” he said.

Attorney General Henry McMaster said he was pleased the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to take the case.

“We thought the South Carolina Supreme Court correctly answered all the questions,” McMaster said.

The settlement agreement said the tribe could have video poker “to the extent allowed by state law,” McMaster said. “Well, state law does not allow it.”

Bender said he thought the U.S. Supreme Court would hear the Catawbas’ case because the land claim settlement was approved by Congress.

The Catawbas became the nation’s 317th recognized tribe on Jan. 19, 1994, when 630 acres of eastern York County were transferred to tribal possession.

The transfer followed a heated 13-year legal fight about an 1840 treaty that the Catawbas said illegally took away 144,000 acres of their land. The settlement also provided the tribe with $50 million along with restoring its rights as a nation.