RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A large majority of people think the idea of allowing four more casinos in North Carolina should be put directly to the voters to decide, according to a new poll.
The poll, which was conducted earlier this week by the conservative John Locke Foundation, found 76 percent of voters support putting the decision to legalize more casinos on a statewide referendum.
“There may be some public concern about the way they’re going about the casinos because right now all of the talk has been behind closed doors, that this is going to be something that will be put into a final budget deal,” said Mitch Kokai, senior political analyst at the Locke Foundation.
The poll also found 55 percent of voters support the idea of legalizing additional casinos compared to 32 percent who oppose that. The remaining 13 percent were unsure. The poll also found support for additional casinos is highest among men 18-34 and lowest among women in the same age group.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland), who supports legalizing additional gaming, said there still is not a finalized proposal. He’s previously said the plan being discussed would create entertainment districts that would include casinos in Nash, Anson and Rockingham counties. A fourth casino would be allowed on Lumbee tribal land.
“My understanding is all of the legislators who represent those areas are supportive of the measure,” said Moore. “At the end of the day, we haven’t had a definitive proposal laid on the table for caucus members to discuss, for them to weigh in one way or another. It’s all been a conceptual discussion.”
The gaming legislation likely would also include legalizing video lottery terminals statewide.
“It would be unusual to make that a referendum. I don’t know if we’ve ever done something like that that would be a referendum,” said Speaker Moore.
He added that local elected officials in the communities affected would have the ability to weigh in through zoning approvals and other matters that would be necessary to address.
“There ought to be something that shows support in the community where it’s going,” he said.
When Virginia lawmakers recently authorized casinos to be built, voters in each city that could potentially have one were given the opportunity to vote on whether they wanted that to happen. Four out of five localities approved building casinos.
Even though the additional casinos in North Carolina still aren’t authorized, Rockingham County commissioners voted this week to approve a zoning request from a company tied to a casino developer. The county’s planning board recommended against the request after people in the community raised concerns. The site is near a camp that serves children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican who represents Rockingham County, has supported the idea of putting the additional gaming in the budget.
The budget will be voted on as a conference report, which means lawmakers have to vote yes or no on the whole thing and no amendments will be allowed.
The Locke Foundation has raised concerns about approving casinos through that method instead of taking up the issue on its own through a bill that goes through the normal committee process with public input.
Speaker Moore said based on the latest talks among Republicans, he thinks it’s likely the legislature will vote on the budget the week of Sept. 11.
Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University, said, “This is an example of the legislature, the General Assembly, saying that they have the power. They really don’t need to go to the people. And, if they want to get this done, why would they muck it up by putting it out for potential referendum?”
The poll also found 62 percent of people believe the additional casinos would help generate additional revenue for the state budget. People were split on whether they think legalizing more casinos would lead to increased problem gambling and addiction.