North Carolina GOP Unveils Standalone Casino Bill After Budget Fail

Posted on: September 18, 2023, 04:04h. 

Last updated on: September 19, 2023, 06:53h.

A new draft bill outlining proposed North Carolina casino expansion would authorize the creation of four casino licenses in the state, CBS17 reports.

Caption 2: North Carolina casinos, casino bill, Phil Berger
North Carolina Republican Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, above, isn’t backing down over casinos, despite controversy over his efforts to insert the issue into the budget. (Image: WUNC)

One of the new licenses will be reserved for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which is recognized by the state but not the federal government. It cannot organize gaming under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The other licenses would be earmarked for “rural counties on the state border and along major transportation corridors,” according to the bill.

North Carolina Republicans behind the push have previously mentioned Anson, Rockingham, and Nash counties as likely casino hosts. Communities in these regions have pushed back, and the new bill does not mention possible locations.

Currently, three casinos in North Carolina are owned by two federally recognized tribes.

Budget Botch

The new draft comes after Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) failed to tag its previous incarnation onto the state’s budget.

There was consternation in Raleigh last week that disagreement over the casino issue was holding up the $30 billion spending plan, which should have been approved in July.

The new bill is similar to Berger’s previous effort, which was the template for the budget proposal. However, as CBS17 notes, the previous bill, oddly, would have allowed just one company to run the three supposed casinos on nontribal lands. The new version would open the process to different developers while retaining the possibility that one could still run all three.

The purpose is to “encourage and promote tourism in rural counties,” according to its authors, who describe gaming as a “new and expanding component of the tourism industry.”

“As many contiguous states allow gaming, those industry business opportunities and employment opportunities are being lost to this State,” the legislation asserts.

Under the bill, prospective licensees would need to get local officials and residents from proposed host communities on board before submitting a plan to the state’s Secretary of Administration for approval.

Tide Turning

North Carolina has traditionally been a conservative state when it comes to gambling. It was the last state on the Eastern Seaboard to establish a lottery, and it was reluctant to accept tribal casinos after the passage of IGRA. Despite hosting one harness racetrack, pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was illegal until this year.

But the tide has been turning. In 2021, the tribes negotiated in-person sports betting at their casinos in the west of the state. In June 2023, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) legalized mobile and land-based sports betting — as well as pari-mutuel race betting — although the new market won’t be up and running until early 2024.

Existing tribal operators will strongly oppose casino expansion, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, the South Carolina-based Catawba Nation, and conservative and religious groups.

A separate, bipartisan bill that combines the casino issue with a Medicaid expansion measure is scheduled to be debated later this week.

In a statement Saturday, Gov. Cooper denounced the effort as “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my three-plus decades.”

“People are right to be suspicious,” he added.