Wednesday, April 3, 2013
In 1840 the State of South Carolina stole 144,000 acres of land that had been reserved to the Catawba Indian Tribe by the British Crown in 1760. Litigation which commenced in 1980 resulted in a settlement among the State, the Tribe and the federal government nearly 20 years later.
As a part of that settlement the Tribe gave up the right to have casino gambling under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in exchange for the right to have two high stakes bingo operations in the state.
The state’s chief negotiator, Crawford Clarkson, then head of the State Tax Commission, characterized the Tribe’s bingo as “the best game in the state” with the dual purpose of providing a stream of income to sustain the Tribe economically and competition to force shady mock charity bingo operators out of business.
The plan worked to the benefit of the Tribe and the state initially, but then the General Assembly passed legislation to improve the competitive position of charity bingo halls. More devastating to the Tribe’s bingo revenue was the state becoming a gaming competitor with the lottery. Once the lottery was in place tribal bingo revenue diminished to the point that it was no longer feasible to operate a bingo hall.
Rep. John Spratt and Sen. Fritz Hollings worked with tribal leaders and political leaders in Orangeburg County and the Town of Santee to devise a plan to relocate the Tribe’s bingo hall in Rock Hill to an unused shopping center near the intersection of I-26 and I-95. This new bingo hall would feature electronic bingo and would resemble a casino in its design. The hall would not, however, be a casino and would not offer any games but bingo.
The advantage of the electronic bingo compared to church basement bingo was that it could be linked to other electronic bingo halls on other Indian reservations increasing the size of pots players could win. A parallel can be seen in the MegaMillions and Powerball multi-state lottery games offered in South Carolina and around the country. More players equal bigger prizes.
The Tribe’s legislation had the support or acquiescence of all members of the South Carolina delegation in Washington. The bill was in the Senate Commerce Committee where Sen. Hollings had great sway, and the chances of passage looked good.
The Orangeburg County Council, the Clarendon County Council and the Santee Town Council all backed the proposal enthusiastically. An analysis of the project by a University of South Carolina economist concluded that the economic impact of the bingo hall and related tourism activities generated by it would be comparable in that part of the state to the impact of BMW in the upstate. Hundreds of people would be employed in the bingo operation and hundreds more in businesses trading on increased tourist traffic as Santee became a destination and not just a gas stop along I-95.
Mark Sanford was governor, but he couldn’t stop the legislation within the South Carolina delegation so he called on a friend from his days in Congress, now a member of the Senate, to put a “hold” on the bill to keep it from being considered.
Mark Sanford told representatives of the Tribe that he was opposed to the bingo hall on moral grounds.
The senator that Mark Sanford called on to kill the bill was John Ensign of Nevada.
Consider the morality of Sanford and Ensign working to deny the Tribe and the people of the Santee area a strong economic development opportunity that would have improved the lives of many in the region and in the Tribe.
Sanford’s “stopper” had an extra-marital affair with the wife of a staff member. Ensign's family, owners of one of the largest casino operations in the world, paid the staff member hundreds of thousands of dollars to forgive the sins of John Ensign.
Mark Sanford, as most South Carolinians can recall spent state money to divert an economic development trip to Argentina so he could rendezvous in Buenos Aires with his paramour.
Later Sanford had his staff tell the world he was hiking the Appalachian Trail, which runs from Georgia to Maine, when he was in fact thousands of miles south of the trail committing adultery.
Clearly Mark Sanford has no geographic compass and no moral compass, but may find his way back to Washington where he can posture and obstruct with no regard for the lives of the people he damaged with his phony anti-gambling morality.
Jay Bender is a Columbia attorney who represented the Catawba Indian Tribe from 1975 to 2006.
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