North Carolina Legislators Shelf Gambling Expansion Bid

Jeff O. - September 25, 2023
Gambling vote down

Legislators in North Carolina have backtracked on their plans to pave the way for establishing three casino resorts as part of the state’s gambling expansion initiative. State lawmakers were to include the casino measure as part of the budget but have since dropped it.

Any plans for North Carolina to usher in casino resorts appear to be dead in the water, at least in the interim. This comes after a dramatic turn of events in the Tar Heel State’s legislature that saw lawmakers ditch their efforts to expand legal gambling. 

The cessation of plans to establish commercial casinos in the state fell short because the GOP faction of the legislature failed to come to a consensus on the backing of the initiative. This move is a significant setback for gambling in the state, which had taken essential strides on the gambling front. Earlier this year, North Carolina lawmakers sent Governor Roy Cooper (D) a bill to authorize online sports betting within the state.

After the success of this initiative, Senate Leader Phil Berger (R- Rockingham) sought approval from the legislature to expand gambling in the state by establishing casino resorts. Berger urged his Republican colleagues to support it as an add-on to the budget to facilitate the establishment of casino resorts in Rockingham, Nash, and Anson.

Divisions in the GOP Faction on Gambling

When Berger initially obtained the backing of House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), his initiative to expand gambling appeared to be going well. However, things abruptly took a different turn when House Speaker Moore seemingly had a change of heart, putting him on a collision path with Berger, who claimed Moore wasn’t upholding his end of the deal. Meanwhile, Moore put forward that after caucusing his Republican lawmakers, the consensus did not relay enough support for him to forge forward with the gambling expansion push. 

The initial proposal by Berger, which had Moore’s backing earlier, recommended setting up commercial casinos in the two border counties and one just off Interstate 95 near Rocky Mount. The rationale for setting up commercial casinos was that this move would likely prevent money from flowing to casinos in neighboring states that had already legalized commercial casinos. Virginia, for instance, is set to open at least four new casinos, and two will be located near the North Carolina border. 

Besides apparent divisions in the GOP on Berger’s bill, Republicans have also struggled to raise support among offer political factions in the State’s House. For instance, a group of conservatives in the House recently expressed their reservations about the proposals suggested by the Republicans, which included language that would expand gambling as part of a two-year budgetary plan.

The Budgetary Link to Gambling Expansion in NC

Berger’s quest to expand gambling in the state has raised quite a few eyebrows. The suspicious gazes were even more magnified when Berger reportedly reached an agreement with Cordish companies that would have seen Live, a casino operator, receive exclusive development rights to all three proposed commercial casinos. The suspicion arose because Cordish execs are known contributors to political campaigns for Berger and other North Carolina Republicans.

 There have also been discussions about separating gambling provisions from this bill and making it a prerequisite for Medicaid expansion. Berger believed this move would draw the Democrats to his camp and compromise his casino push in exchange for the health care agreement. Be that as it may, this move also failed because it endangered a deal struck by the Democratic Governor with the GOP legislators half a year ago. This initiative would fail to gain the support of nearly all of Cooper’s Democratic allies in the legislature.

While the issue of Medicare remains top of Governor Cooper’s and his allies’ priorities, they feared that Berger’s proposed deal would compromise the agreement with the GOP. According to that law, the enactment of the budget bill was a prerequisite for the expansion of medical aid.

There was a general agreement that the gambling issue wouldn’t hold up as part of the budget due to strong differences in opinion. According to House Speaker Moore, a caucus of his fellow Republican colleagues earlier this month found that only 40 of the existing 72 GOP House members were willing to declare support for the budget bill – if it was tied to gambling.

Why the Governor Pushed Back on the Gambling Expansion Move

According to NC Newsline, the North Carolina Governor’s concerns about the widespread effects of gambling in the state significantly influenced why legislators shelved plans for gambling expansion. Despite signing an online gambling bill into law earlier in the year, it is reported that Governor Cooper still holds concerns about the potential negative consequences of a massive and unprecedented gambling expansion. 

The Governor’s main concerns were the possibility of prevalent corruption and gambling addiction in the state. Also, sources close to the Governor did not feel that the projected tax revenue was worth compromising on an issue the Governor clearly felt strongly against.

Well, despite the gambling plans failing to make it to the budget, plans for the negotiated final two-year spending plan are expected to go ahead. The budget bill is expected to receive widespread support from Democrats and Republicans, then after its passage, it will be retroactive to July 1st, which was the state’s start to its fiscal year.

That said, whether Senator Berger’s efforts will continue, even as the Old North State gears up to launch online sports gambling within its boundaries, remains to be seen.

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