Originally created 12/11/97

Catawbas plan $100,000 opening for S.C.'s first high-stakes bingo



ROCK HILL, S.C. -- Reversing their earlier statements, Catawba Indian leaders say South Carolina's first high-stakes bingo hall will open the day after Christmas with more than $100,000 in daily prizes, no matter what the attendance.

They originally said they did not expect to attract enough players to pay out the large prizes initially.

However, the tribe now says it expects to turn people away when the bingo hall opens Dec. 26 at the old Rock Hill Mall. Nevertheless, the six-figure payout is guaranteed even if the turnout is sparse.

"In bingo, when you advertise a prize, you don't back out of it," said Gordon Hirsch, a tribal spokesman.

The Catawbas won the right to open the high-stakes bingo hall as part of their $50 million land-claim settlement with state, federal and local governments.

Their plans for a second bingo hall in North Myrtle Beach have been blocked by city officials. The tribe has sued in federal court to revive its plans for a $6 million bingo parlor off the Intracoastal Waterway.

On Dec. 26, 27 and 28, individual players at the Rock Hill bingo hall could win prizes as large as $2,000, $3,000 or $25,000. The hall will also award more than $100,000 in prizes every Saturday and Sunday in January.

The money won't be as big on weekdays when the holidays are over. A prize pool of about $30,000 is expected then, with average payouts from $350 to $700.

Anyone coming in must purchase a game pack, which costs $25 to $75. Game packs contain 15 cards. Players can pay extra for early bird, warm-up and night games.

The Catawbas began building the $1.2 million bingo hall this past summer on a nine acres at the former mall. The tribe last month bought the mall's remaining 25 acres but have not decided what to do with that.

"Right now the focus is on opening the bingo hall," Hirsch said.