North Carolina lawmakers and Gov. Cooper appear to be rethinking the inclusion of commercial casinos in the state’s budget bill.
As WRAL’s Brian Murphy posted on X, formerly Twitter:
Gov. Roy Cooper on casinos/VLTs: “I have my doubts as to whether this is going to come about. There doesn’t seem to be agreement right now. What we need to do is to see it. This is the kind of thing that should be run separately. It should not be in the budget.” (via @TravisFain)
Cooper’s comments come after a rollercoaster two-week period where a draft casino proposal surfaced and news broke that a casino developer had been donating money to North Carolina legislators during the last election cycle.
While the Legislature is working on finishing its past-due budget, which could include North Carolina casino expansion, WRAL’s reporting cited House Speaker Tim Moore’s comments that neither casinos nor video lottery terminals were in the current draft budget bill.
NC casino expansion to service economically-distressed counties
Among the criteria put forth in the draft casino proposal were provisions to place three commercial casinos in three of the state’s most-economically-distressed counties, based on the Department of Commerce’s tiered ranking of NC counties.
While some county and municipal officials saw value in the increased revenue from casino expansion, others saw the expansion as encroaching on their businesses and the county’s natural resources.
Under the proposal, casino expansion could proceed without a voter referendum in the affected counties. That didn’t stop Nash County from proposing one such referendum. Moore indicated he had received encouragement from the three counties in question – Nash, Anson and Rockingham – but Nash’s interest in pursuing a voter referendum indicates the need for voter approval may outweigh the general sentiments about casino expansion in the state.
Lawmakers attempt to uplift Lumbee Tribe through casino allotment
Of the four casinos proposed, one would be given to the Lumbee Tribe in the southeastern part of the state.
The tribe, which has toiled unsuccessfully since the 1950s to gain full federal recognition, has been unable to benefit from gaming compacts like those established by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Nation. The EBCI has two casinos in the far western portions of the state – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino in Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy. Catawba has the Catawba Two Kings Casino outside of Charlotte.
The draft bill, which on its own would not permit the Lumbee from opening a casino, did ensure that if the Lumbee could secure full federal recognition on its own terms, it or its affiliate would have a casino opportunity waiting from them through the state’s legislation.
NCSharp reached out to the Lumbee Tribe on the feasibility of the proposal, and Tasha Oxendine, public relations manager, said, “We appreciate the continued support of our state leaders for the Lumbee Tribe” but didn’t comment on any stipulations in the bill.
North Carolina Lottery tagged as regulator under draft casino bill
One month after legalizing online sports betting in North Carolina and handing over regulatory duties to the North Carolina Lottery Commission, the Senate’s draft casino proposal also pegged the NC Lottery with regulatory duties for the proposed casino industry.
While the Legislature has not formally addressed it, the question of whether the NC Lottery could feasibly, in short time, assume regulatory duties for sports betting, casinos and video lottery terminals could give lawmakers pause. No other state has heaped that regulatory workload on its state lottery.
NCSharp reached out to the NC Education Lottery on the question of regulatory load management but received no comment.
If commercial casinos are shelved, votes likely there next year
All indications point to strong support for casino expansion in North Carolina. During budget talks, Senate Leader Phil Berger and Speaker Moore stated clearly that bipartisan support for casinos exists. A recent NCSharp survey of 1,000 state residents showed support for expanded casino gaming.
With the expansion of casinos across the border in Virginia, North Carolina lawmakers acknowledge that out-of-state casinos are siphoning North Carolinians and their casino revenue elsewhere.
It’s too early to say whether campaign contributions from an out-of-state developer will negatively sway voters concerned with private interests trying to buy control of the industry.
At the moment, reports about Cordish Cos., the Maryland casino developer that spent over $30,000 in the last North Carolina election in legal campaign contributions, do not appear out of line. The campaign spending from the Maryland group is relatively modest compared to other high-profile casino operators, such as Las Vegas Sands.
In six months, barring more egregious payments to NC politicians, voters and lawmakers will likely return to the casino question with a clean slate.