If the owner of the nearly empty Santee Outlet Mall has it his way, the once-thriving shopping center could serve as the next home for the Catawba Indian Nation’s bingo operation.
Nation representatives said last week that mall owner Herman Lischkoff wrote to them on Aug. 15, asking South Carolina’s only federally recognized tribe if it wants to lease or buy the 150,000-square-foot mall that now only has one store.
“If we are ready to pursue a second location, which we are allowed to do (under state and federal law), we will contact him,” tribal spokeswoman Elizabeth Harris told the Orangeburg Times and Democrat. She said that, otherwise, the tribe is focused solely on the opening of its operations in York County.
A settlement agreement made with state lawmakers 20 years ago currently allows the Catawbas the right to operate two bingo halls. Prizes are limited to a $100,000 maximum under the settlement, which was resolved after 153-year-old claims to land around the tribe’s reservation in York, Lancaster and Chester counties.
After opening its York location, which operated from 1997 through 2006 and reopened recently, the nation sought North Myrtle Beach as its second site. But local officials caved to public pressure and rejected the tribe’s proposal, citing zoning conflicts.
Lischkoff’s courting of the tribe from the early 2000s to 2004 ended similarly, with public opposition from religious groups and churches that said a bingo hall would “bring in the types of people that hometown folks don’t want to associate with,” one Santee resident told The Item in 2007.
Locals said gambling leads to addiction, moral decay and gives young people the impression that gambling is all right.
But Lischkoff maintained throughout the struggle that aside from saving the mall, a bingo hall would bring in as many as 4,000 new jobs — 1,000 at the hall alone — and millions of dollars annually to Santee’s struggling economy.
“It’s a no-brainer,” Lischkoff said in 2010 with his mall only operating a handful of stores. “You want to lower a high unemployment rate, you bring in jobs. It’s simple.”
According to the state Department of Employment and Workforce, Santee’s unemployment rate has ranged from a low of 6.5 percent in May 2007 to a high of 17.7 percent in September 2009. Its current rate, as of June, is 12.8 percent. Orangeburg County’s rate is a bit higher at 13.4 percent, while neighboring Sumter and Clarendon counties have 9.5 and 12.1 percent, respectively.
At the height of the mall’s success, nearly every store was full. By 2004, roughly seven stores filled the 30-store facility, but Lischkoff told The Item in 2007 that 15 stores were operating on the property.
Now, Ingrid’s Antiques and Collectibles is the only store remaining. Owner Ingrid Jacobs was unavailable on Saturday for comment but has posted on the store’s Facebook page that she has no intentions of closing the store. Lischkoff always promoted stores remaining open during his talks with the Catawbas.
Reach Robert J. Baker at (803) 774-1211.