Party infighting, resistance from both sides of the political aisle and strong opposition from the governor doomed any chances of expanding casino and video lottery gambling in North Carolina in 2023.
Pro-expansion supporters wanted to add at least three retail casinos in the state and to legalize up to 50,000 video lottery terminals (VLTs). However, the Achilles heel of the effort was a controversial strategy to tether the gambling proposals to the expansion of Medicaid in the state budget.
As a result of these legislative misadventures, North Carolina casino expansion is dead in 2023.
Gov. Cooper blasts supporters of NC casino expansion
Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper blasted Republicans who backed the plan in a social media post.
“GOP demand for passage of their backroom casino deal in exchange for a state budget and Medicaid expansion is the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades. People are right to be suspicious. Something has a grip on Republican leaders and it’s not the people of NC. – RC”
While detractors of this tactic came mostly from Democrat voices, some Republican members of the state legislature also balked at making Medicaid expansion hinge on the approval of new gambling outlets in the $30 million budget. Residents in areas mentioned as possible sites for new casinos also opposed the tactic and voiced their concerns to their representatives.
Furthermore, the most vocal advocates–Senate President Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln didn’t always see eye-to-eye.
Last week, Berger accused Moore and his GOP House colleagues of walking back on an agreement to include gambling expansion in the state budget.
“There’s been no determination made whether the gaming legislation will or will not be in the budget,” Moore said to reporters. “It is something we’re going to discuss in our caucus.”
The Medicaid proposal extends health coverage to about 600,000 residents. The budget also includes provisions to increase the salaries of teachers and state employees. Passage of the budget is already two months behind schedule.
Future North Carolina casino efforts and local opposition
Even though casino expansion advocates lost this battle, they plan to bring the issue up again in future legislative sessions. It will be an uphill battle as Berger saw vocal and organized opposition from residents in his own backyard to casino expansion.
Rockingham County was one of the three sites mentioned in talks as a site for a new casino along with Anson and Nash counties.
Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page is also an opponent of building a casino in the county. Page is running for lieutenant governor and wrote an editorial for The Carolina Journal opposing casino expansion and expressing disdain for “backroom deals and shenanigans in the legislature.”
“Some lawmakers have held the budget hostage, in what appears to be an attempt to legalize gambling outside of Native American reservations, without the benefit of public comment or even public awareness until it’s too late.”
The Senate will hold votes on the budget today and Friday.