Halifax County, Roanoke Rapids Officials Seek a Casino in North Carolina

Posted on: October 13, 2023, 01:34h. 

Last updated on: October 13, 2023, 01:47h.

Commercial casinos aren’t coming to North Carolina anytime soon, but discussions earlier this year about legalizing slot machines and table games in the Raleigh capital have prompted local governments and boards to take stances on the controversial topic.

Halifax County Roanoke Rapids casino North Carolina
Restaurants and gas stations off the Interstate 95 Roanoke Rapids exit. Roanoke Rapids and three Halifax County tourism and infrastructure-focused boards have expressed support for the area to consider a casino development. (Image: Westwood Financial)

North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) spearheaded the gaming push. Berger backed including a casino provision into the state’s 2023-25 budget bill to allow a commercial casino in the counties of Rockingham, Anson, and Nash.

Berger’s efforts eventually stalled as local officials in the targeted counties scolded Berger and other top Republicans for seemingly trying to push casinos on communities that might not want them. Berger and his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), say they’re likely to introduce a standalone gaming bill during the state’s 2024 legislative session.

Their thinking is that North Carolina should allow commercial casinos near the Virginia border where casinos are opening, and possibly along major interstates such as I-95, to keep gaming money inside the border.

County Raises Hand

While legislative boards in the three targeted counties made public statements and/or passed ordinances opposing Berger and Moore’s casino efforts, officials in another North Carolina county say they’d be interested in considering a gaming development if permitted through state legislation.

An online local news source called RRSpin that covers Roanoke Rapids, Weldon, and Halifax County reported this week that four economic development, tourism, and infrastructure boards in the area recently passed resolutions supporting the consideration of a casino. The boards are the Halifax County Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Halifax County Economic Development Commission, Halifax County Business Horizons, and the Roanoke Rapids Sanitary District.

The resolutions expressed support for Halifax County to mull a casino development in Roanoke Rapids.

Halifax County is just north of Rocky Mount in Nash County along I-95 where Berger and Moore thought a casino would make sense. I-95, one of the busiest highways in the US, crosses through the middle of Halifax.

The county is quite diverse, as more than half of its residents are Black, with whites accounting for 39% of the population per the 2020 US census.

County Board Remains Undecided

Though four area boards believe a casino is worthy of a review, the Halifax County Board of Commissioners is split on whether gambling could benefit the region. The commissioners in September voted 3-3 on a proposed resolution that would have expressed the board’s backing for Roanoke Rapids to campaign for a casino.

Though the economic benefits of a commercial casino are well known, Commissioners Carolyn Johnson, John Smith, and Sammy Webb voted against the resolution on concerns about the casino possibly increasing crime and addiction.

Commission Chair Vernon Bryant, Linda Brewer, and Chenoa Richardson Davis voted in favor of the casino resolution.

I support it even though I don’t gamble because it’s the biggest opportunity economically for the city of Roanoke Rapids and also the county,” said Webb.

Smith said his concerns had to do primarily with a casino attracting county residents who can’t afford to lose money at the slots or table games.

“The way I look at it — okay, if I’m a gambler, maybe I’ll go to Danville [Virginia] on the weekends. Now, traveling to Roanoke Rapids I can go every night and still be able to get up and go to work the next morning. Now I have afforded them an easier way to continue to become addicted,” Smith told RRSpin.