Connections to The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based resort and casino developer, donated $34,400 to at least nine North Carolina lawmakers between November 2022 and March 2023, per campaign finance disclosures from the N.C. State Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission.
The Cordish Cos. have been tied to a North Carolina firm called NC Development Holdings, which requested a zoning change from residential/agricultural to commercial for 200 acres of land in Rockingham County last month.
In draft legislation dated July 11, Rockingham County was identified as one of three counties eligible for a commercial casino. In that draft, a single developer would be licensed to develop casinos in all three designated counties: Anson, Nash and Rockingham.
With the confirmed campaign donations from people associated with Cordish Cos., it appears the Baltimore developer is angling to be that licensed developer for a burgeoning North Carolina casino industry.
Cordish donors and the NC lawmakers they’ve funded
Per a report by the Carolina Public Press, the donors affiliated with The Cordish Cos. are Joseph Weinberg, CEO of Cordish Gaming Group; Jon Cordish, principal and director of finance at The Cordish Cos.; Zed Smith, chief operating officer; and Rhonda Smith, homeowner and wife of Zed Smith.
The nine North Carolina lawmakers who have received Cordish Cos. dontions are:
|North Carolina Lawmaker||Donation Amount||Cordish Cos. Donor|
|Sen. Phil Berger (R, Rockingham)||$5,600||Joseph Weinberg|
|Rep. Jason Saine (R, Lincoln)||$5,600||Joseph Weinberg|
|Rep. John Bell (R, Wayne)||$5,600||Joseph Weinberg|
|Sen. Lisa Barnes (R, Franklin)||$5,600||Joseph Weinberg|
|Sen. David Craven (R, Anson)||$2,500||Zed Smith|
|Rep. Larry Strickland (R, Johnston)||$2,500||“Zeb” Smith, a likely misspelling of Zed Smith|
|Sen. Todd Johnston (R, Union)||$2,500||Rhonda Smith|
|Rep. Kyle Hall (R, Forsyth)||$2,500||Zed Smith|
|U.S. Rep Kathy Manning (6th district)||$2,000||Jon Cordish|
The donations from The Cordish Cos. affiliates were legal and fell under the legal maximums ($6,400 per election) in North Carolina state law.
Some critics consider this an attempt by an out-of-state group to “buy” a casino license in the state. Still, as the contributions are all legal, it is difficult to argue that they have established an unfair advantage by making them.
Cordish contributions pale compared to work done by Sands PAC
The Cordish Cos. campaign contributions to NC lawmakers are relatively small potatoes when considering what casino interest groups are doing in other states.
In Texas, for instance, the Las Vegas Sands PAC, created by the late Sheldon Adelson to fund casino expansion, has donated millions of dollars to Texas lawmakers over the past five years. In the last election cycle alone, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan received $150,000 donations from Sands during an April 2022 run-off election.
On top of that, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott received a $50,000 check during his 2023 re-election bid and a $1 million personal donation from Miriam Adelson, majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands and wife of the late Sheldon Adelson.
These donations have long been public knowledge in the Lone Star State and have done little to bring about legal gambling expansion. In the two election cycles since Sands invested heavily in Texas, a casino bill has never made it out of the state House or the Senate.
How big can the NC casino industry get?
While Texas is a much larger market than North Carolina, the Tar Heel State is not a small potato by any means. As the country’s ninth-most populous state and one that already has three tribal casinos – Harrah’s Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River and the Catawba Two Kings Casino – and legal commercial casinos across the border in Virginia, a retail casino market could generate significant revenue.
A Spectrum Gaming study from March determined retail casinos in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties could generate between $336 million-$589 million in tax revenue annually.
The draft casino bill also stipulates that the developer that receives the license to build casinos in North Carolina must put forth at least $1.5 billion of private money, spread evenly over the three casino locales, and pledge to create at least 5,250 jobs.