RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said the effort to try to legalize new casinos through the state budget ultimately “doomed” the proposal, though it could resurface during next year’s legislative session.
Speaking to reporters this week, Moore said he still supports the idea of authorizing four new casinos and video lottery terminals across North Carolina in places like bars and restaurants. But, he does not expect to see any action on that issue for the rest of this year.
“It makes sense to me do it,” he said. “The way that it was done, the way in not going through a committee process like we did on the sports betting, I think – like you used the word earlier ‘doomed’ it- I think it did.”
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) pushed to include the gambling proposal in the state budget. Final details of the plan didn’t emerge until a few days before the budget became public. That frustrated some Republicans, particularly in the state House of Representatives, who felt like they didn’t have all the information about the proposal or the ability to give much input.
The budget is voted on as an all-or-nothing proposal, meaning once it’s on the floor for a vote there are no amendments allowed.
“There were people who probably would have supported it as a standalone bill who just felt like the way it was being done and not having any input in it, didn’t work,” said Speaker Moore.
He said the next opportunity for the proposal to resurface likely won’t occur until next year’s short legislative session, which will occur after the primary election in March.
While Moore said he supports the concept, he said the leading proponents of it need to work to build support for it in the next few months if they want to try again to pass it.
“It’s not something that I’m gonna be carrying the water on. But, they need to go out and work with their colleagues and try to get those votes for it,” Moore said. “It starts off with sort of backing up, get past a lot of the crazy emotion that got around this thing for some reason and talking about the facts.”
Moore added he thinks more lawmakers would be inclined to support the plan if it was more clearly specified where the money would go beyond growing the state’s general fund or to offset tax cuts.
The legislation unveiled last month would have allowed four casinos, one of which would have been on Lumbee tribal land. The proposed bill outlined criteria for where the other three casinos could be located, but it’s long been expected those casinos would end up in: Nash, Anson and Rockingham counties.
This week, Rockingham County Commissioner Kevin Berger, son of Sen. Berger, spoke about a trip commissioners took to Maryland earlier this year to visit a casino owned by the Cordish Companies, which has hired lobbyists and donated to lawmakers amid the push to legalize more casinos.
Berger said commissioners had to “keep private” details of the economic development proposal even as the public became aware that there were serious efforts underway to bring more casinos to the state.
He decried efforts by critics of the plan to build public opposition to it.
“These people would be showing up making false claims and really not understanding the process that was taking place,” he said. “This was only a preview of the circus that was generated.”
Commissioner Berger pointed out that under the proposed legislation a casino developer would have to commit to creating at least 1,750 jobs and invest at least $500 million.
Doug Isley is part of the group Citizens for Good Growth in Rockingham County and has opposed the casino proposal.
He said county commissioners “continue to undermine basic government transparency and accountability.”
“I believe it’s gonna be a net negative for the county. I believe that there are other things we can spend our money on to try to bring folks into the county,” he said.