Republicans in North Carolina back down on casino efforts

Last updated on: September 20, 2023, 09:32h.

The efforts of North Carolina Republicans to include a casino provision in the state’s 2023-25 budget bill have been abandoned amidst controversy.

North Carolina casinos budget bill
North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger presides over the Senate floor on May 4, 2023. Berger’s efforts to bring commercial casinos to the state were unfruitful in 2023. (Image: AP)

After facing significant criticism for their controversial attempt to expand commercial casino gambling, GOP leaders in the General Assembly have confirmed that the gaming talks for 2023 have officially ended.

Following the authorization of online sports betting earlier this year, Senate leader Phil Berger sought to further expand legal gaming by introducing casino resorts in select North Carolina counties. However, House Speaker Tim Moore stated that there was insufficient support amongst House Republicans to pass the budget bill with gaming provisions, resulting in a split between the two leaders.

Berger has since retracted his previous stance and declared that the casino controversy will no longer be pursued in 2023.

“We believe this is the most prudent way for us to proceed,” Berger said.

The state’s budget bill, which was due to be passed by July 1, is now long overdue. Lawmakers have convened in a special session in Raleigh to resolve the two-year spending plan.

Budget Compromises

Berger’s actions in relation to his gaming push have raised concerns among many.

Reports suggest that Berger had reached an agreement with The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based gaming and hospitality firm, to grant them exclusive development rights to all three North Carolina casinos if authorized. Cordish executives have recently made considerable political campaign contributions to Berger and other Republicans.

In an earlier compromise with Governor Roy Cooper, Republicans expanded healthcare access through the federal Affordable Care Act. Cooper’s priority has been the expansion of healthcare programs.

Berger believed that Cooper and state Democrats should have been willing to compromise on the casino issue in return for the healthcare agreement. However, local opposition from county officials and community members in the targeted casino areas resulted in a lack of support within the state’s capital chambers.

“Clearly, there were differences of opinion, and at the end of the day, we felt that no single issue should hinder the budget,” Moore said. The House speaker revealed that a Republican caucus found that only 40 out of the 72 House members were willing to support the budget bill with gaming included.

Despite the setback, North Carolina residents still have access to casino options through three tribal casinos in the state. Additionally, online sports betting is set to commence in January.

Spending Plan to Move Forward

With gaming excluded from the spending plan, Berger has confirmed that the 2023-25 budget will be finalized and released today. Floor votes are expected to proceed tomorrow and Friday.

Both Berger and Moore anticipate a smooth passage of the budget. The budget will be retroactive to July 1, marking the start of the state’s fiscal year.

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