Originally created 12/19/97

Catawbas give preview of upscale bingo parlor



ROCK HILL, S.C. -- It's a far cry from your church-basement bingo.

The Catawba Indians' upscale new parlor covers more than 58,000 square feet, seats more than 2,000 players and expects to have a $13 million annual economic impact on the community.

Several hundred local business and community leaders gathered Thursday evening to get their first look at the state's first high-stakes bingo hall. What they saw was a bright and clean facility, decorated with Indian murals amid the numerous number boards.

"I was shocked when I walked in," said Betty Rockholt, whose husband owns a local tire shop. "It caters to everyone."

The $4.5 million facility is one big open room, featuring nearly 400 tables stretched along 25 rows or so. It features a gift shop, ATM and a restaurant that serves your usual burgers-and-nachos fare, but no alcohol.

In addition to the number boards, dozens of TV monitors show the podium as the numbers are called out. Workers spent Thursday night handing out bumper stickers, pins and daubers -- those big ink stamps used to mark up bingo cards.

The tribe has launched a television advertising campaign and already has 30 buses scheduled to arrive for opening night Dec. 26, Catawba Chief Gilbert Blue said.

Women make up 80 percent of bingo players, according to tribal research figures. The median household income is between $25,000 and $35,000, and 40 percent are retirees.

All proceeds will be added to tribal coffers, and will help improve education, housing and social services for members, said Connie Wade, the tribe's economic development chairman.

"All those things will be enhanced greatly by this bingo facility," Mr. Blue added. "We don't want to just be known as a gaming tribe."

Catawba Bingo also has formed a corporate partnership agreement with United Way of Rock Hill to meet an annual fund-raising goal of $25,000.