More than 100 people came out on a damp Monday night to fight a proposed high-stakes bingo parlor on Columbia's Decker Boulevard.
The matter could come to a vote at tonight's Richland County Council meeting.
After a two-hour meeting where some complained details still were missing, Councilman Jim Manning would not say whether he would retract his resolution supporting a vote on the Catawba Indian Nation games.
Though Manning insisted the operation was not considered gambling under state law, the audience disagreed.
"We think this is gambling," said Joe Mack, who works in the public policy office of the S.C. Baptist Convention.
Mack said the Catawba Indian Nation has been unable to find a location for a bingo operation, as allowed under state law, outside its Upstate reservation.
"In 17 years, we've never had one. Why start now?"
Midway through the meeting, state Sen. Joel Lourie and Rep. Joan Brady said they would ask the 11-member County Council to deny permission for the operation, with a possible $100,000-a-game payout.
Susan Brill, with the Richland 2 school board, said her board would do the same. Some were uneasy with the site, near Dent Middle School.
"We've invested about $18 million on Decker Boulevard and we want to see it go up, not down," she said.
Lourie said he was concerned the operation would hurt neighborhood property values and quality of life.
Catawba chief Donald Rodgers spoke in detail about the history of his tribe in South Carolina and said proceeds from the game would be used to improve health and housing in his community.
"We are here to be a good neighbor," he said. "We will operate a very nice facility."
He said the operation would produce spinoffs, with customers going out to eat nearby.
"From what I'm hearing, some people think it's going to create a lot of riff-raff," he said, adding that many who play bingo are older folks.
Rodgers wants to take over an existing bingo hall, Carolina Gold, at the intersection of Decker and Trenholm Road.
At one point, Carolina Gold owner Wayne Kirby said: "We've got an opportunity to bring a lot of money back into the economy here, and nobody's listening to it."
Among the questions Rodgers said he couldn't answer Monday were whether the bingo parlor would sell alcohol, what hours it would keep and how many local people it might employ.
"Everything I've heard from the chief tonight is vague, non-specific," said Mike Montgomery, who represented the area on County Council before losing the seat to Manning last year.
Montgomery was applauded after he said people came to be reassured but were leaving distressed because of the lack of details. He said he couldn't fathom why County Council would entertain the proposal.
Residents looking for a revitalization of Decker Boulevard said bingo isn't what they had in mind. The corridor, which the county is trying to brand as an international community, has struggled as big retailers, grocery stores and restaurant chains moved deeper into the suburbs of Northeast Richland.
Lawyer Mike Atwater said he worried the games would produce purse-snatchings, car break-ins and assaults along with busloads of bingo players from miles around.
Richland sheriff's Capt. Cole Porter said existing bingo games haven't had those kinds of problems.
"I have watched the economic vitality of Decker Boulevard be pulled down, bit by bit by bit, until now all we have left are the marginal businesses," community leader Ed Judice said.
"We have a lot of areas where the population is aging, and they're concerned that an operation such as this could imperil their security."
Manning said if the bingo operation doesn't come to Decker, he'd be looking for community involvement on alternatives. "Any new ideas or energy out of this group would be appreciated," he said.
Manning took some barbs from the polite audience.
Among the questions, submitted in writing on yellow cards, was why he hadn't notified the community about the proposal sooner. Someone else wanted to know if he had accepted political contributions from the bingo industry.
"Not yet," he said, smiling.