In a recent development, the North Carolina Republican Party (North Carolina’s GOP) has introduced a new bill aimed at expanding the state’s casino industry. This move comes after Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s attempt to include a similar proposal in the state’s budget was unsuccessful.
According to CBS17, the proposed legislation outlines a plan to authorize the establishment of four casino licenses within North Carolina. Notably, one of these licenses is reserved explicitly for the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, which, while recognized by the state, lacks federal recognition and cannot operate casinos under the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). The remaining three licenses are intended for “rural counties on the state border and along major transportation routes.”
Although previous discussions had mentioned Rockingham, Anson, and Nash counties as potential casino locations, the current bill does not specify any particular sites. This omission reflects the pushback from communities in these regions.
Presently, North Carolina is home to three casinos owned by two federally recognized tribes. The bill if approved will open doors to several legal online casinos in North Carolina.
This new draft comes in the wake of Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger’s failed attempt to include a similar casino expansion bill in the state’s budget. The disagreement over including this casino provision had caused delays in the approval of North Carolina’s $30 billion spending plan, originally slated for approval in July.
The latest bill shares several similarities with Berger’s previous proposal, which had served as a template for the budget draft. However, a significant difference lies in the fact that the initial bill had suggested that only one company could operate all three proposed non-tribal casinos. The revised version allows for the possibility of multiple developers, although it still retains the option for a single entity to run all three.
The bill’s primary objective is to “encourage and promote tourism in rural counties,” considering gaming as a growing facet of the tourism sector. Its authors also argue the loss of economic opportunities to neighboring states that have already embraced gaming.
“As many contiguous states allow gaming, those industry business opportunities and employment opportunities are being lost to this State,” the legislation asserts.
According to the proposed bill, potential licensees would need to secure support from local officials and residents in the communities where they intend to establish these casinos before submitting their plans for approval to the state’s Secretary of Administration.
In terms of gambling, North Carolina has historically had conservative stance. It was the last state along the Eastern Seaboard to create a lottery, and it initially resisted tribal casinos after the enactment of IGRA. Despite hosting one, the state also outlawed pari-mutuel betting on horse racing until this year.
However, recent developments indicate a shift in this approach, including negotiations with tribes for in-person sports betting and Governor Roy Cooper’s legalization of mobile and land-based sports betting, along with pari-mutuel race betting, in June 2023. This new market is expected to launch in early 2024.
Opposition to casino expansion is expected to be fierce, primarily from existing tribal operators such as the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Nation from South Carolina, as well as conservative and religious groups.
In addition to this casino-focused bill, a separate bipartisan proposal is scheduled for debate, combining the casino issue with a Medicaid expansion measure. Governor Cooper has strongly criticized this effort, labeling it “the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme” he has encountered during his lengthy political career, reflecting the skepticism surrounding this proposal.
As North Carolina navigates this evolving landscape of gaming and economic prospects, the debate surrounding casino expansion is expected to intensify. Various stakeholders are poised to voice their perspectives, expressing their concerns and support for the proposed changes. The outcome of this legislative effort will likely have far-reaching implications for the state’s tourism industry, economic future, and evolving attitudes toward gambling within the state.