North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore’s growing list of scandals doesn’t include legal gambling expansion efforts.
Two weeks since the filing of a sexual misconduct lawsuit against Moore and only days after the US Supreme Court rejected a court case bearing his name about the exceptionality of state legislatures, Moore is carrying on with business as usual.
The NC Legislature is deep in budget talks, which some lawmakers have indicated won’t conclude by the desired deadline of July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Those discussions may involve allotting money for commercial casinos and video lottery terminals, an extensive legal gambling expansion beyond the passage of online sports betting earlier this month.
Bad news ripples out quickly
Since the filing of the lawsuit, Moore’s past scandals and ethical violations have been coming through the rye at an inopportune time for his legislative counterparts.
Lawmakers are currently clarifying House Bill 259, which will set the state’s budget, with regard to gambling revenue generated from North Carolina commercial casinos and VLTs.
These talks have got the conference committee addressing the bill under the gun, and House Majority Leader John Bell, among others, is trying to take allegations against Moore in stride.
“I hate it for him and all parties involved. It’s just not a good situation regardless of how you look at it,” Bell told the News and Observer’s Dawn Vaughn on her Under the Dome podcast. “But it became my job to make sure that the caucus stays focused. We have a budget to get done. We’ve got bills to get done.”
Despite the significance of passing a state budget, Moore’s news has dominated headlines in state and, with Moore’s US Supreme Court case, national news.
While Moore has brushed off the impact of the Supreme Court ruling, saying it came down “as I predicted,” the current lawsuit and resurfacing scandals are rippling quickly through the state.
Many of the past scandals never stuck to Moore, and this one may be no different. It doesn’t make life any easier for NC lawmakers, though, as Adam Dunn, journalist and communications director for former Lt. Dan Forest, wrote on his blog:
“It’s not a good look any way you slice it,” Dunn wrote, “and this type of cavalier behavior inevitably catches up with you. Chances are, Speaker Moore will largely ignore the issue and skate by without major repercussions. The conversation will quickly turn back to veto overrides and budget deals and whether Moore will draw himself a district to run for Congress next year.”
Moore avoided ethical pitfalls over previous gambling bill votes
Moore, in a professional capacity, once provided legal support for the Catawba Tribe in its land acquisition for casino development. As such, Moore, in his political capacity, regularly recused himself from votes on gaming expansion to avoid a conflict of interest.
That ended this year when an ethics committee found that Moore no longer needed to consider a previous client with whom business had been concluded in the current conflict of interest analysis.
The committee’s decision allowed Moore to vote on Rep. Jason Saine’s online sports betting bill, House Bill 347, which was signed into law June 14.
Moore, along with a majority of House Republicans, voted in favor of the bill.
Moore’s decision to recuse himself from previous votes on gambling expansion may have cost the state one year of legal sports betting. Moore, a supporter of online sports betting, recused himself from last year’s vote on Senate Bill 688, which came up one vote short.
This year, despite a growing list of scandals, ethical concerns and judicial failures, Moore has charted a clear course in the expansion of legal gambling in North Carolina.
“It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” Moore told WRAL of his decisions to play it safe with gambling expansion. “It’s like anything else, sometimes it’s the appearance, and I like to always err on the side of caution.”
Coming over a month ago, Moore’s statement probably hits home a little differently today.
Casino expansion still on the table, but time’s running short
While the budget debate is approaching the soft deadline of July 1, efforts to include commercial casinos and VLTs must happen quickly and decisively.
Some lawmakers, including Moore, argued for commercial casino expansion in HB 347. Those inclusions were ultimately withheld to ensure the most streamlined route for the passage of online sports betting.
Taking the approach of authorizing commercial casinos through budgetary talks has got supporters and lobbyists working overtime to hammer out parameters for an industry that only exists at three tribal venues.
Since Saine reported over a week ago that talks on the issue were ongoing, it’s been radio silence from the conference committee working on the bill. We’ll know more soon as the need to get a budget in place, despite distractions from Moore, is a top priority for the Legislature.
Thus far, legislators have not efforted to add apps such as a BetMGM online casino in NC to the table.
Image Credit: Andrew Harnik / AP Photo