The S.C. Supreme Court has ruled that the Catawba Indian Nation is not allowed to offer video poker and other electronic gaming devices on its York County reservation under the Gambling Cruise Act.
The ruling is a setback for the tribe’s efforts to establish revenue-generating gambling games the way many tribes do in other states.
In its decision, the high court upheld a lower court ruling in Richland County by Judge Ernest Kinard Jr.
The case has a complex background.
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In 1993, after many years of struggle, the tribe gained possession of a 144,000-acre tract in York, Lancaster and Chester counties. Under the state-approved settlement agreement granting the tribe title, the tribe is not able to offer gambling except as “authorized by state law.”
In 1993, video poker was legal in South Carolina and grew to be a $3 billion dollar yearly business statewide. In 2000, alarmed by the largely unregulated business and a growing number of gambling additions, the state banned video poker.
In 2005, the tribe brought an action seeking to allow it to offer video poker. However, in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that since video poker was now illegal in South Carolina, the tribe had to go along with state law.
In 2012, the tribe – still seeking to have video poker machines – filed its motion for a declaratory judgment before Judge Kinard, seeking approval to set up gambling operations under a state law that allows people in S.C. coastal towns to take cruises from those towns out to international waters where they can gamble. That state law is called the Gambling Cruise Act.
In the current legal action, the Catawbas were contending essentially that since state law authorized people on cruise ships that went from S.C. coastal towns to international waters were allowed to gamble, the tribe should be allowed to offer gambling also.
But Kinard rejected this reasoning, and Wednesday, so did the Supreme Court.
“Under any interpretation, the Gambling Cruise Act does not authorize the utilization of video poker devices anywhere in the State’s territorial limits, be it on land or within the state’s territorial waters.”
The Catawbas are the state’s only federally recognized Native American tribe.
Lead attorney for the Catawbas was William Wilkins of the Nexsen Pruet law firm.
Attorney General Alan Wilson and his staff attorneys, representing the state of South Carolina and SLED Chief Mark Keel, won Wednesday’s decision.