Radio Silence For Casino Expansion AS NC General Assembly “Short Session” Convenes

North Carolina has convened its short legislative session, and gambling expansion may be too hot to handle this year.

After a tumultuous 2023 session that saw lawmakers legalize retail and online sports betting and parimutuel horse race wagering while failing to legalize commercial casinos, legislators in 2024 remain ominously quiet on the subject of gambling expansion.

The November elections and the backlash from last year’s casino push may be why North Carolinians won’t hear much casino talk until at least 2025.

Failed casino expansion efforts spur decisive citizen response

Last year, the plan to legalize North Carolina commercial casinos upset many citizens in the counties pegged for casino expansion.

What rankled them most was learning that out-of-state casino interests had been pushing for this expansion behind the scenes for at least a year. Being removed from the decision-making process around casino expansion led many to protest in the three counties designated for casino expansion: Anson, Nash, and Rockingham.

Nash County Commissioners expressed disapproval that state lawmakers’ plans to legalize casinos did not involve a voter referendum. So, they voted 6-1 to hold a county referendum. Such a vote has not yet taken place.

In Rockingham, the home county of Senate President Pro Tempore and key casino proponent Ken Berger, citizens showed up in droves to contest the rezoning of land that could become the site for a future casino. NC Development Holdings, the group proposing the rezoning, had connections with Maryland-based casino developer The Cordish Companies, the frontrunner to develop all three North Carolina casinos.

Rockingham citizens argued there would be disruptions to the small towns in the area, an increase in crime, and, most importantly, that things had gone this far without their awareness or input.

Despite citizen opposition, the five-member City Council approved the rezoning request unanimously, citing their responsibility to the 92,000 people living there.

As the meeting ended, citizens chanted “Vote Them Out” while exiting the building.

And they did.

Three of the five Rockingham county commissioner seats were up for re-election in March. Voters successfully voted in newcomer and anti-casino proponent Jeff Kallam while voting out Vice Chairman Don Powell. They nearly voted out Commissioner Kevin Berger, Sen. Ken Berger’s son. He regained his seat after a re-count put him three votes ahead of newcomer Craig Travis, who also opposed casino expansion.

All 170 state legislative seats up for re-election in November

Will the Rockingham referendum on North Carolina casinos have repercussions for state lawmakers in November? It could. All 170 legislative seats in both houses are up for grabs in the November elections.

With last year’s ill-fated efforts to expand casinos through the 2023-2024 state budget fresh in people’s minds, lawmakers have already said they’d keep casino talks off the table this year. The shortened legislative session may play a part in this decision. Still, the implications of presenting another casino bill in the face of so much vocal opposition could prove more weighty.

After seeing what happened in Rockingham, who could blame them?

Video lottery terminals and sports betting tweaks may get attention

The second year of the legislative biennium is traditionally reserved for shoring up the budget passed in the previous year. While new bills can be proposed, this is less likely than in odd-numbered years.

However, House Bill 512, which would legalize video lottery terminals, sits in the House Commerce Committee where it could receive further discussion. If it passes Commerce, it moves on to Appropriations, then Finance, then Rules to be considered for House floor debate and a vote. If successful there, it would follow a similar path through the State Senate.

A fiscal note on HB 512 has the video machines netting the state $1 billion in revenue after the fifth year.

As the national push to ban college player prop bets continues, one lawmaker, Rep. Marcia Morey, D-Durham, plans to introduce legislation to that effect. However, as Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, who sponsored North Carolina’s sports betting bill, explained to WRAL.com, this approach wouldn’t gain traction. For Saine, the onus is on campus police to protect students and make an example of anyone harassing student-athletes.

C.J. Fisher, gaming professor and lawyer at Fox Rothschild Law Firm, told NCSharp, making a statutory change to the sports betting law, by way of amendment or a new law, is very difficult. “It’s not something that will happen in the short term, if at all,” Fisher believes.

The other tweak to North Carolina sports betting that we could see in this session involves licensing fees for parimutuel horse race wagering and advanced deposit wagering (ADW). The current cost for a North Carolina ADW license is $1 million for a five-year license. At $200,000 annually, that fee is ten times higher than the next highest state: New York. The North Carolina Lottery Commission noted in a report to the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee that the high cost for a license could be a significant barrier to entry.

With the Kentucky Derby less than two weeks away, the possibility that North Carolina will lower this barrier in time is nil.

How long will “short session” run

Typically, lawmakers aim to conclude the legislative session by the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. That date is not in stone, and House Speaker Tim Moore and Berger have not yet communicated an end date.

With a narrow super majority in both houses, Republicans could let the session linger on for weeks or even months if they feel they can advance legislation that supports their core issues and chances for re-election.

For his part, Moore recently told reporters:

“The big complaint last year that folks had when it came with the gaming legislation was the way it was just kind of being jammed in without much discussion. And frankly, I think those criticisms were fair. I didn’t like that process.”

Moore also noted that he didn’t want to put forth any gaming legislation this year that didn’t have bipartisan support.

Democrats fill nine of the 26 seats on the House Commerce Committee where HB 512 sits. So, that committee decision may be a bellwether vote for the viability of video lottery terminals.

But if we don’t see early committee action on VLTs, don’t expect a late push this year.

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.