Rockingham Residents File Lawsuit Against County for Casino Dispute

Posted on: October 31, 2023, 09:31h. 

Last updated on: October 31, 2023, 10:54h.

Landowners in North Carolina’s Rockingham County have filed a lawsuit against county commissioners for allegedly ignoring “basic legal requirements” in their rezoning of 192.7 acres of land targeted for a casino development.

Rockingham North Carolina casino lawsuit Cordish
Residents in Rockingham County, N.C., have filed a lawsuit against their county for rezoning land for a commercial casino without their elected officials being more transparent. The litigation alleges that the local government ignored zoning rules and made numerous procedural errors. (Image: WRAL)

In August, the Rockingham Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a rezoning request from NC Development Holdings, an entity linked to The Cordish Companies in Maryland. Cordish operates Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania.

County commissioners agreed to rezone the nearly 193 acres of land just north of Camp Carefree, west of US 220. The land was switched from a “residential/agricultural” designation to a “highway commercial” use.

In the lawsuit against the county, seven plaintiffs, led by Camp Carefree, a free summer camp for children with disabilities and chronic illnesses that has existed for nearly four decades, alleges the local officials erred in approving the rezoning application. The lawsuit also claims NC Development Holdings failed to provide a “detailed statement” for the reason for the proposed rezoning.

The lawsuit, in addition to Rockingham County, names NC Development Holdings as a defendant.

Lawsuit Allegations

Rockingham County commissioners were rather quiet about why they quickly agreed to rezone the land for NC Development Holdings. But soon after the August vote, rumors surfaced that Senate President Pro Tempore (R-Rockingham) was working a backroom deal with Cordish to allow the casino developer and operator to build casinos in Rockingham, Anson, and Nash counties.

Berger’s son, Kevin Berger, is one of the five Rockingham commissioners who voted in favor of the rezoning request. State election finance records show that Cordish has donated at least $34K to Berger and other state Republicans in the Raleigh capital. Cordish also allegedly hosted the Rockingham commissioners at its Live! Casino & Hotel Maryland.

Berger unsuccessfully tried to tack a provision onto the state’s 2023-25 budget bill to legalize commercial casinos. He reasoned that with casinos opening in Virginia, North Carolina would be smart to offer in-state casinos.

The lawsuit alleges that the Rockingham commissioners violated the county’s Unified Development Ordinance rules, ignored surrounding land uses, and engaged in illegal contract zoning.

“We seriously question the judgment of local and state officials who think it is a good idea to put a casino beside a beloved children’s camp that has served disabled and special needs children and their families for nearly 40 years,” a statement from the plaintiffs read.

“Maybe if these elected officials had made a trip to Camp Carefree this past summer and spent time with campers instead of traveling to a casino in Maryland, they would know just how important it is to preserve our community. We hope this rezoning lawsuit will shine a light on the need for transparency and accountability of all our elected officials,” the statement added.

Landowner Says He Was Duped

The lawsuit against Rockingham County also names the landowners who agreed to sell their property that comprised the nearly 193 acres as defendants. But a landowner in Nash who had also agreed to sell his property to NC Development Holdings says he was misled into agreeing to the terms.

I call it deception,” Kent Dozier, who agreed to sell his land along his namesake Dozier Road, told CBS17 last month. Dozier claimed he was never told that NC Development Holdings was linked to a casino developer.

“I’ve never bought a lottery ticket. I don’t gamble,” Dozier stressed. “I can’t see taking hard-earned money and throwing it at a chance knowing that they’re designed to take your money.”