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S.C. Supreme Court Rejects Catawba Tribe’s Video Poker Claim

In an opinion filed this morning, the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled that the Catawba Indian Nation does not have the legal authority to operate video gambling in the Palmetto State. Not only does this ruling shut the door on the Tribe’s efforts to conduct video poker in South Carolina, but it further curtails the Tribe’s ability to establish a Las Vegas-style gambling casino in Cleveland County, North Carolina.

As a matter of history, the South Carolina General Assembly banned video poker in 1999. Subsequently, the state legislature passed another bill to clarify that municipalities and counties in the state could regulate or prohibit gambling boat “cruises to nowhere” that embark from South Carolina shores. During these gambling cruises, a vessel travels beyond the state’s jurisdictional limits into international waters, conducts video gambling activities, and then returns to the state without making an intervening stop in another state or territorial jurisdiction.

According to the Court’s opinion, ” the Tribe contended the Gambling Cruise Act constituted an ‘authorization’ of video poker, and if video poker is permitted anywhere in the state, the Tribe should be allowed to exercise the same right upon its Reservation.” The Tribe’s argument was rejected when the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision that “the Gambling Cruise Act does not authorize the Tribe to offer video poker on its Reservation in contravention of the existing statewide ban on video gambling devices.”

This decision not only prohibits the Tribe from conducting video poker operations in South Carolina, but it also puts one more roadblock in the way of the Tribe’s efforts to build a 220,000 square foot gambling casino along Interstate 85 on the outskirts of Kings Mountain, North Carolina.

The Tribe derives its sole authority to conduct gambling operations from a “Settlement Agreement” entered into by the Tribe, the U.S. Congress and the State of South Carolina in 1993. According to the Settlement Agreement, “Except as specifically provided in the Federal Implementing legislation and this Agreement, all laws, ordinances, and regulations of South Carolina and its political subdivisions govern the conduct of gambling or wager by the Tribe on and off the Reservation.”

In short, if video poker is prohibited in the State of South Carolina, the Catawba Indian Nation cannot legally conduct video gambling activities there or in any other state.


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