North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has called the 2023 effort to legalize North Carolina casinos “doomed”.
Last month, the North Carolina legislature revealed a gambling bill, tucked in the state budget, for four North Carolina casinos.
Republican Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, lobbied to include the bill in the budget. However, he did not make the bill’s details known until just days before the budget became public. The lack of specifics created friction among some of his fellow Republicans.
Several members of the state House of Representatives expressed that they did not have adequate information to make an informed vote on the bill. Some members also felt left out regarding input into the bill’s language and details.
This is because the budget in North Carolina does not allow for amendments once it is on the floor. The budget is an all-or-nothing vote and with the details not revealed until days before the budget voted, the draft casino proposal within the budget ultimately got removed.
Why the bill was ‘doomed’
Moore supports the move for additional casinos in North Carolina as well as video lottery terminals. However, he does not think the approach taken in 2023 was correct. Speaking to reporters this week he stated, “The way that it was done, the way in not going through a committee process like we did on the sports betting, I think, like you used the word earlier ‘doomed’ it. I think it did.”
However, he does feel it could be introduced in the 2024 legislative session after the primary election in March.
“There were people who probably would have supported it as a standalone bill who just felt like the way it was being done and not having any input in it, didn’t work,” he said.
Moore believes additional lawmakers would support commercial casinos in NC with more details made available. Particularly about the allotment of funds other than vaguely explaining that they are destined for the state’s general fund or to offset tax cuts.
Community backlash over more NC casinos
The perceived lack of transparency by not introducing the legislation as a stand-alone bill also frustrated some community members.
The organization, Citizens for Good Growth in Rockingham County, opposed casino expansion in Rockingham County. Doug Isley, a group member, expressed frustration that county commissioners “continue to undermine basic government transparency and accountability.”
It did not help that Rockingham County Commissioners took a trip to a Maryland casino earlier in 2023. The casino was owned by the Cordish Companies, who hired lobbyists and donated to lawmakers to legalize more casinos in North Carolina. Commissioners kept details of the trip secret.
Kevin Berger, son of Sen. Berger and a Rockingham county commissioner, said commissioners had to “keep private” the details of the proposal despite public awareness of significant movement taking place for additional North Carolina casinos.
Berger criticized efforts by those who want to create public opposition to more casinos in North Carolina. He pointed out that the bill requires the casino developer to invest a minimum of $500 million and generate at least 1,750 jobs.
Although lack of transparency is at the forefront, Isley and others want monies spent elsewhere.
“I believe it’s gonna be a net negative for the county. I believe that there are other things we can spend our money on to try to bring folks into the county,” Isley said.
What should NC do in the 2024 legislative session to avoid the pitfalls of 2023?
Transparency in a 2024 NC casino bill is crucial to succeed. Detailing how and where the money is spent will go a long way in assuaging concerns. Along this line, explaining how a new casino positively affects the local economy may change the view of many people in favor of casino expansion.
A 2024 bill also needs to delineate where any new North Carolina casinos will be located. The 2023 bill gave only criteria where three of the casinos could be located. The fourth casino would have been on Lumbee tribal land.
Moreover, new legislation needs to be introduced as a stand-alone bill. This will give the legislature and the public time to review the bill and offer comments and amendments.