Nash County North Carolina Officials Say Residents Should Have Final Say on Casino

Posted on: August 4, 2023, 02:11h. 

Last updated on: August 4, 2023, 10:56h.

Should North Carolina lawmakers legalize commercial gambling, the Nash County Board of Commissioners wants a local referendum on a possible casino. They voted 6-1 this week in favor of an ordinance that would petition the state for approval to conduct such a vote.

Nash County North Carolina casinos
Signs on Interstate 95 north of Richmond, Va., show the Virginia capital beltway. Local officials in Nash County, NC, which is home to Rocky Mount, where a commercial casino is being considered, want to ask their voters about gambling before such a project would be authorized on the state level. (Image: Flickr)

Lawmakers in Raleigh are considering legislation that would permit a single commercial casino in three counties, including Nash, Anson, and Rockingham. Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) is spearheading the gaming effort on the belief that money is flowing north to casinos in neighboring Virginia.

But the closed-door politicking about casinos has frustrated many residents in the three counties being targeted. Those frustrations are shared by some county officials, who say they, too, are in the dark about the casino deliberations.

No casino bill has been formally introduced to the General Assembly. Berger is reportedly instead considering tacking the measure onto the legislature’s budget bill, which is at the center of the extended legislative session.

Nash Demands Voice

The six Nash County Commissioners who voted in favor of a local referendum on a casino should be allowed their say, according to constituents. The commissoners,  not state lawmakers, should have the final say on a casino, they claim.

Interstate 95 traverses the county, with Rocky Mount being a preferred pitstop for motorists. Though Nash County Commissioners say they haven’t been brought up to speed about the current state of the discussions regarding Berger’s casino bill, Commission Chair Robbie Davis told the Triangle Business Journal that he attended a meeting “a few months ago” where a casino plan targeting Rocky Mount was shown.

Davis says he’s prohibited from detailing which casino developer was behind the project and who else attended the meeting because he signed a nondisclosure agreement. Davis says it’s his position that Nash residents should have the definitive vote.

It will be a controversial decision. I have found in my 21 years of being a commissioner that the fairest way of dealing with controversial items to your voters is giving them a chance to be involved with it,” Davis stated.

The commissioner said he opposes casinos in Nash because the county is already one of the poorest regions in the state and a casino might make things worse. He also believes the people “deserve to have a voice.”

Nash County can’t hold a referendum without state approval. Should state lawmakers get behind Berger’s bill and authorize casinos in the county, the referendum ordinance passed by the Nash County Board of Commissioners this week would go to Raleigh, where state lawmakers would be lobbied to consider approving the statute.

Rocky Mount Support

Though six of the seven Nash County Commissioners want county voters to determine if a casino comes to the area, Berger’s gaming effort has the support of at least one elected official. Rocky Mount Mayor Sandy Roberson said last week that a casino resort is exactly what the I-95 city needs.

It’s about creating this live-work environment where people want to move to your location,” Roberson told the Rocky Mount Telegram. “The services, the restaurants, the entertainment, the experiences … that’s really the driver.”

Berger’s bill would require each casino to invest $500 million in the development and employ a minimum of 1,750 people.

Nash County Commissioner Marvin Arrington was the lone vote against the casino referendum. He said only voters in the targeted host city should be allowed to weigh in.