North Carolina state budget negotiations have led to a new way forward involving the untethering of casino expansion and Medicaid coverage from the state budget bill.
Over the weekend, state Republican lawmakers released to their Democrat counterparts a new stand alone bill that included both casino expansion and Medicaid funding. This came after members of the House walked out last week when House Speaker Tim Moore could not secure the necessary votes for a budget that included casino expansion.
The new proposal includes only North Carolina casinos. Video lottery terminals, previously discussed alongside casino expansion, are still on the table but not included in this bill.
How this draft NC casino bill compare to previous draft bill
The biggest change made to this new North Carolina draft casino bill is that the state will no longer authorize a single business to develop all three commercial casinos in the state. They will open it to multiple businesses.
Here are the pertinent components of the draft bill:
- Three commercial casino “entertainment districts”; one tribal casino for Lumbee Tribe
- Multiple businesses can develop these casinos (previous bill allowed for a single developer)
- A tier-one (economically distressed) county
- Within 90 miles of the international airport
- A border county and east of counties traversed by I-77 and west of or in a county traversed by future I-73; a border county traversed by I-85; a county traversed by Interstate 95 and traversed by or north of U.S. 64; a county east of the counties traversed by I-95 and traversed by or north of U.S. 64
- Has a population of less than 100,000
- Does not contain Indian lands with gaming as of July 1, 2023
While the bill does not spell out the specific counties, the indication is that they will be the same three counties proposed under the previous draft casino bill: Anson, Nash and Rockingham.
The fourth casino offered to the Lumbee Tribe would be developed in one or more of the following counties: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, New Hanover, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland.
All companies applying to develop a casino would have to meet the following criteria, which is nearly the same as the previous bill:
- Create at least 1,750 jobs
- Invest at least $500 million of private money
- Have ten years of experience in commercial gaming
- Have ten years of experience in mixed-use land development
- Pay a $500,000 non-refundable application fee and a $7.5 million proposal fee per site (this differs slightly from the previous bill that required a $25 million proposal fee for all three sites)
- Proposal fee reimbursed to selected developer(s) in the form of tax credit; developers not selected would have proposal fee reimbursed
Tethering casino and Medicaid expansion to increase Democrat support
Pulling both casino expansion and Medicaid from the state budget and packaging them in a standalone bill is a possible Republican tactic designed to get Democrats who support Medicaid expansion to vote for casinos as well.
It also creates a workaround for Republicans who may not have voted for the budget that included Medicaid funding.
Per WRAL.com, Medicaid expansion may still be dependent on the budget as Republican lawmakers who passed the Medicaid expansion package included in the budget did so with a caveat: “if the budget doesn’t pass, expansion doesn’t happen.”
The stand-alone bill has already invoked the ire of Gov. Roy Cooper, who took to X (formerly Twitter) to call the new proposition “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades.”
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…
— Governor Roy Cooper (@NC_Governor) September 16, 2023
A July NCSHarp survey found that 45% of all respondents support casino expansion in the state while only 29% oppose it.
NC casino and budget votes this Wednesday or Thursday
Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, sponsor of North Carolina’s new online sports betting law and top House budget writer, said a vote on both the budget and the casino/Medicaid expansion would likely occur this Wednesday and Thursday.
The state is currently more than two and a half months into the fiscal year without a codified budget.
Image Credit: Gary D. Robertson / AP images