New Casino Bill Introduced by North Carolina GOP Following Budget Setback

Date: September 18, 2023, 04:04h. 

Last Updated: September 18, 2023, 04:04h.

A draft bill proposing the expansion of casinos in North Carolina has been introduced, potentially leading to the creation of four casino licenses in the state, as reported by CBS17.

Caption 2: North Carolina casinos, casino bill, Phil Berger
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)

At present, North Carolina has three casinos operated by two federally recognized tribes.

According to the bill, one of the new licenses will be allocated to the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which is recognized by the state, but not by the federal government. Therefore, the tribe cannot conduct gaming activities under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA).

The other licenses will be reserved for “rural counties on the state border and along major transportation corridors.”

Prior mentions by North Carolina Republicans have indicated that Anson, Rockingham, and Nash counties are likely candidates for hosting the casinos, although specific locations are not mentioned in the new bill.

Budget Botch

The introduction of this new draft follows Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s failure to include the previous version in the state’s budget.

Last week, the disagreement over the casino issue caused delays in approving the $30 billion spending plan, which should have been finalized in July.

The new bill closely resembles Berger’s initial effort, which served as a template for the budget proposal.

However, unlike the previous bill, which peculiarly allowed only one company to operate the three proposed casinos on non-tribal lands, the new version opens the process to different developers, while still retaining the possibility of one company running all three.

The authors of the bill aim to “encourage and promote tourism in rural counties,” highlighting gaming as a “new and expanding component of the tourism industry.”

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

Under the bill, potential licensees must garner support from local officials and residents of the proposed host communities before submitting their plans for approval to the state’s Secretary of Administration.

Tide Turning

Historically, North Carolina has been conservative in terms of gambling. It was the last state on the Eastern Seaboard to establish a lottery and was hesitant to accept tribal casinos after the implementation of IGRA. Although it now hosts one harness racetrack, parimutuel betting on horse racing only became legal earlier this year.

However, the tide is turning. In 2021, the tribes successfully negotiated in-person sports betting at their casinos in the western part of the state. In June 2023, Governor Roy Cooper legalized both mobile and land-based sports betting, as well as parimutuel race betting. However, the new market is not expected to be operational until early 2024.

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

A separate bipartisan bill that combines the casino issue with a Medicaid expansion measure is scheduled to be discussed later this week. Governor Cooper has criticized the effort, referring to it as “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my three-plus decades.”

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

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