The Rockingham County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold a public hearing Monday and vote on a request to rezone 192 acres of land off Ram Loop and US Highway 220 south of Madison.
The parcel of land, currently zoned for residential agricultural use, is being considered for rezoning to highway commercial use. The company making the request, NC Development Holdings, is working with a Maryland-based developer, The Cordish Companies, to rezone the land for potential casino expansion.
Rockingham is one of three counties identified in a draft casino bill connected to the state’s budget bill that would receive a license to develop an “entertainment district,” including a North Carolina casino plus a range of other destination tourism attractions.
Rezoning site’s location incites community backlash
The proposed site sits adjacent to Camp Carefree, a nonprofit kids camp for children with chronic illnesses and other disabilities.
People associated with the camp worry that the land in question, 192 acres that cut as close as 60 feet from the Camp Carefree property line, will be converted too quickly into something that does not support the work done at the camp.
County residents have circulated a petition online titled “Stop Rezoning Request 2023-12,” which has gained nearly 3,600 signatures since July 13. Hundreds more attended a public meeting at Ellisboro Baptist Church two weeks ago, mostly to voice their opposition to casino expansion in Rockingham County.
Chris Rodenbough, property manager at Camp Carefree, spoke at the Ellisboro meeting, stating, “We are not Las Vegas. We don’t want to be Las Vegas.”
Senate Leader Phil Berger, who is from and represents Rockingham County, has seen North Carolinians siphoned off to Virginia to play at its casinos. He has used that loss of revenue to champion casino expansion in state.
The draft casino bill put forth by the state Senate specifically identified counties such as Rockingham for the benefit casino development could mean for the local economy. However, Berger is aware that finding the right location is key.
Speaking to reporters, Berger said, ”Some of the folks that have told me they’re opposed to it have told me that they’re opposed to it because of where it might be, that if it was over in Reidsville, it’d be just fine if it was someplace else in the county, be just fine. So I do think the location is animating some of the opposition.”
Reidsville City Council holds closed-door “economic development” meeting
The Reidsville City Council and Mayor Donald Gorham held a closed-door meeting Thursday to discuss economic development in the city, which lies roughly 20 miles east of the proposed rezoning site.
After the meeting, Gorham would not say whether the council discussed casinos as part of that development.
Speaking to FOX8, Gorham said, “We had a discussion about a potential economic development that might be here in the county.” He also did not answer a question about his support or opposition to casino expansion in Rockingham.
The question of job growth in a city of 15,000 people inspires debate among residents of Reidsville, who question not whether a casino would bring jobs but what type of jobs those would be.
Commissioners’ vote of approval is not required for casino expansion
Under the draft casino bill proposed in July by the state Senate, a public vote is not required for the state to move forward with casino expansion at the three sites.
However, the meeting Monday night, expected to draw a crowd of roughly 1,000 people solely interested in voicing their opinion on a Rockingham casino, could send a message to lawmakers considering the best-fit approach to casino expansion in the state.
For its part, NCSharp conducted a survey that found that 45% of North Carolinians support casino expansion with the increase in revenue for the state being the biggest reason for the expansion.
Recently, Gov. Roy Cooper said that he felt the budget was not the best avenue for advancing commercial casinos through the Legislature.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. The public hearing on the land rezoning is listed as item seven on the agenda. A vote is expected after the hearing.