North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore Says Casino Push ‘Makes Sense’ in 2024

Posted on: October 10, 2023, 11:31h. 

Last updated on: October 10, 2023, 11:59h.

North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) might have folded on their casino efforts in 2022, but the odds are good the Republican leaders in the Raleigh capital will be back next year to continue their gaming push.

North Carolina casinos Tim Moore Phil Berger
North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore leans over the podium to talk to state lawmakers on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2023. Moore believes the legalization of commercial casinos should be further discussed in 2024. (Image: The News & Observer)

After decades of opposition to commercial gaming expansion, the North Carolina General Assembly earlier this year authorized sports betting online and in-person at professional sports venues. Berger believed that there was finally an adequate appetite in Raleigh to further expand gaming and end the state’s prohibition on commercial casinos. The state is home to three tribal casinos: Harrah’s Cherokee, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, and Catawba Two Kings.

Berger devised a scheme to slide a commercial gaming provision into the state’s 2023-25 budget bill. The top Republican in the state reasoned that Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the state’s elected Democrats should be willing to back a casino add-on to the spending bill. That’s after Republicans agreed to help the governor uphold his campaign promise to expand healthcare access through the Affordable Care Act, aka “Obamacare.”

But the way Berger wanted to go about legalizing three commercial casinos in three designated counties via the budget, Moore now concedes, was a flawed legislative tactic.

2024 Regroup

Speaking with reporters, Moore said he and Berger should have taken a more traditional approach to legalizing something as significant as gambling. The top Republican in the House said the process was likely “doomed” from the beginning.

Local officials and residents in the targeted counties were largely kept out of the backroom legislative discussions about including casinos in the budget. Many elected officials in the three counties — Rockingham, Anson, and Nash — scolded Berger and Moore for trying to bring slot machines, table games, and sports betting to their backyards without giving them a voice in the matter.

Though 2023 won’t be the year North Carolina legalizes commercial casinos, Moore is optimistic that such a bet might prevail in 2024.

There were people [lawmakers] who probably would have supported it as a standalone bill who just felt like the way it was being done and not having any input in it didn’t work,” Moore said. “To me, it makes sense to do it [legalize casinos].”

Moore added that while he would back a commercial gaming measure, he won’t be the one rallying up support in the counties where Berger proposed allowing casinos.

“It’s not something I’m going to be carrying the water on. They need to go out and work with their colleagues and try to get those votes,” Moore said.

Cordish Partner

Adding to Berger and Moore’s controversial efforts to legalize commercial casinos is an apparent backroom deal the Senate leader struck with The Cordish Companies that would have afforded each casino development opportunity to the Baltimore-based firm. Cordish operates Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Berger said recently that county commissioners in the targeted counties were privy to the state’s casino talks, but those local officials were legally bound to “keep private” those details.

Cordish executives have made several campaign contributions to state Republicans, including Berger, in recent campaign cycles. Moore saying “they” will need to go out and rally support for casinos presumably means Cordish.