Four New NC Casinos Pitched As Part Of State Budget Deal

North Carolina lawmakers have proposed four casinos as part of a deal to hammer out the state’s new budget.

House Speaker Tim Moore provided that Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties could be the sites for three of the four “entertainment districts,” as the casinos have been termed. The fourth casino site would be in the southeast part of the state under the operation of the Lumbee Tribe.

Coupled into the budget with casino expansion would be the legalization of video lottery terminals. VLTs are machines that play similarly to slot machines. In previous VLT legalization proposals, they would be allowed in bars, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores with ABC licenses.

Both forms of gambling expansion and the budget should be voted on in the next few weeks. Moore, R-Cleveland, told reporters Thursday that “if the votes are there, the anticipation is it would happen this year.”

Senate provided a North Carolina gambling proposal on Wednesday

Both chambers have shown broad interest in gaming expansion beyond sports betting, which was made legal in June. Moore went so far as to say that his “understanding is that there is more support for this proposal than there was for some of the sports betting.” His comments were largely anecdotal, as no votes have been taken on casino expansion.

Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, who chairs the budget conference committee, also said he saw general support for North Carolina casino expansion, but that he had seen “no definitive proposal” from the Senate. That changed Wednesday, when the Senate provided a draft proposal to the House, including the casino and VLT provisions.

Moore indicated lawmakers in rural parts of the state have shown interest in casino expansion as a way to “spur the economy of the region.” That’s different than online casino expansion, where platforms such as a Caesars online casino in NC, could be played statewide and would also offer more public funding.

The three proposed counties for casino expansion have populations under 100,000, with Anson County, the smallest, topping out at around 22,000 residents.

Rockingham County, home to Senate Leader Phil Berger, an advocate for casino expansion, also sits on the Virginia border, just 20 miles from the Danville, Virginia, casino that recently opened across the state line. A Maryland-based casino developer is trying to get a zoning reclassification for 200 acres of land in the county. While no statement has been provided on the purpose of the reclassification, given the Senate’s latest budget draft, building a casino would be the likely purpose.

Key casino gambling components of Senate draft bill

According to WRAL, which received a draft of the proposed bill, three entertainment districts would be given to a single business to develop, with the fourth going to the Lumbee Tribe. The specific counties were not named in the draft, dated July 11. However, the following provisions in the draft were provided:

  • The developer must commit $1.5 billion of private money to the development, with at least $500 million going to each site.
  • An eligible county must be east of I-77, bordering I-95 or traversed by it, no more than 60 miles from an international airport, have fewer than 100,000 people and be “one of the 40 most economically depressed counties in the state.”
  • The Lumbee Tribe, or an affiliate, could run the fourth casino in one of 10 southeastern counties if it receives full federal tribal recognition.
  • The state would begin taking developer proposals on Sept. 1 and close submissions 60 days later. Another 60 days would be provided to the state to select a developer.
  • A developer must have 10 years of experience in the commercial gaming industry and promise to provide at least 5,250 jobs to the state.
  • The casinos would pay a 22.5% excise tax on gross gaming revenue. Penalties would be imposed on the developer if it did not reach its investment and job quotas.

No vote needed on NC casino expansion

Moore said, based on WRAL’s reporting, that the latest draft of the bill “would not require a referendum in the communities where the casinos could be located.”

Those community leaders have been contacted, though, and Moore said that “the report back to me is that they support it.”

Berger has previously stated that local leaders and community members should have a chance to weigh in on new casinos. An NCSharp survey of state residents showed support for casino expansion in NC.

While the ball appears to be rolling on casino and VLT expansion, Berger stressed that the Legislature is still negotiating and, despite some clarity on casinos, there is still no full budget bill on the table.

Until that happens, lawmakers will not truly have a sense of if and how casinos and VLTs fit into the larger fiscal picture for the state.

More work for the North Carolina Lottery Commission

Under the draft bill, the North Carolina Lottery Commission would become the regulator of the state’s commercial casinos.

The state’s existing three tribal casinos – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy and Catawba Two Kings Casino in Kings Mountain – are regulated by the Tribal Gaming Commission for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Tribal Gaming Commission for the Catawba Indian Nation.

The North Carolina Lottery Commission has already been tasked with regulating the sports betting industry, which launches in the first half of 2024. Asking the NCLC to oversee a commercial casino industry as well as the proposed video lottery terminal expansion could overtax the commission. As such, the state may do well to consider the creation of a casino control commission to shoulder some of the burden of such a wide-ranging legal gambling expansion.

About the Author

Tyler Andrews

Tyler is the Managing Editor for NCSharp.com, covering sports, sports law, and gambling for the Tar Heel State. He has also covered similar topics for PlayTexas, PlayGeorgia, PlayCA, PlayFlorida, PlayOhio, and PlayMA. Tyler’s current focus is North Carolina’s pathway to gaming legalization.