A public records request placed by the News and Observer in Oct. 2023 to acquire all emails from the 170 members of the North Carolina House and Senate returned hundreds of emails from constituents opposed to casino gambling expansion.
The News and Observer requested all communications from each legislative member for a single day—September 19. On this date, both chambers resolved a budget impasse over the plan to include North Carolina casinos in the bill.
The initial controversy arose from state lawmakers prioritizing action to legalize casinos over pending expansions to Medicaid and pay raises for state employees.
Only a fifth of lawmakers provided email records
According to the News and Observer’s findings, More than 70% of lawmakers chose not to respond to the records request. However, 38, including 12 Republicans and 26 Democrats, provided copies of emails from the day. A handful provided only a small selection of emails, while others provided several hundred pages.
The majority of the emails received consisted of messages from constituents, media requests, invitations to conferences and public events, newsletters, and press releases. Only a few lawmakers shared any information on direct communication with staff, members of the assembly, and other officials in the state and local governments.
The proposed gambling expansion suggested the establishment of three North Carolina casinos on nontribal land in rural parts of the state. As the plan moved closer to finalization, mobilized opposition put it under tremendous scrutiny.
The notable issue is the impact of long-pending welfare reforms in the state. The Cordish Companies, a Maryland casino developer, purchased land in counties earmarked as possible casino sites. They then hired powerful lobbyists to iron out administrative wrinkles.
State residents oppose proposed North Carolina casinos
County residents spoke against the proposal at commission meetings and the legislature. Despite protests, Rockingham County commissioners approved rezoning a 192-acre parcel. In a 5-0 vote, the commissioners voted to use this land to establish a casino and entertainment district.
Camp Carefree, a camp for children with disabilities, emailed multiple lawmakers urging them to “stand up against bully tactics” and “draw a line to put an end to” the inclusion of casinos in the state budget. In one email, a Camp Carefree stakeholder added, “Senator Berger and his allies are holding up resources that will benefit hundreds of thousands of lower-income NC residents, teachers, bus drivers, and other state workers,” adding that Republicans and Democrats “are against what (Berger’s) trying to do and the process he’s using.”
A Madison resident addressed another email to several Republicans. It stated that Senator Berger was paying no attention to residents’ concerns and pursuing a new casino behind their backs.
Residents used an email template created by a conservative coalition
Nearly 500 other residents sent a templated email to lawmakers. The NC Values Coalition, a key conservative group that has supported several Republican priorities in 2023, created the template. It reads as follows:
“To elevate the importance of casino cesspools and video lottery terminals above protecting unborn babies and educational choice, as well as a host of other good budget initiatives, is unconscionable. Gambling is not a conservative value. It’s a destructive force that will leave a swath of devastation and destruction in our state by increasing addiction, crime, human trafficking, and family breakdown.”
They heard from another resident who lived minutes away from the proposed casino site. She was vehemently opposed to introducing a casino to the area despite the added tax revenue it would bring.
Her email read, “There’s no reason increased tax revenue could ever justify what comes with a casino. It is especially insidious when donor dollars from these casinos and associated developers are flowing into PACs where top leadership in our state are involved. It shows clear failure of leadership when a politician has to resort to developing a casino in order to create jobs.”
The entirety of the emails obtained by The News and Observer are available on its website.
Citizen emails may have shelved NC casino expansion in 2023
On September 19, months-long negotiations concluded. Legislative leaders announced shelving the North Carolina casino proposal despite going ahead with the planned $30 billion budget. Residents requested Republican lawmakers to “stand up to bully tactics” and deny the proposal. Many live in and around possible sites for the proposed casinos.
Many complaints mentioned that the casino push effectively blocked a budget component that delayed raises for state employees, including teachers and bus drivers. Other pushback included references to Senate leader Phil Berger.
Berger was perceived to be ignoring the concerns of the state’s constituents, opting to pursue casinos instead. The News and Observer gathered information regarding the constituents’ opposition to the lawmakers’ plans through the emails obtained from its public record request.
With the 2024 legislative session underway, whether casino legislation will be discussed again this year remains to be seen.
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