RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – After months of negotiations about a plan to legalize more gambling options in North Carolina, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger’s office released a copy of the legislation on Saturday, which would authorize four more casinos.
The legislation, which was obtained first by CBS 17, outlines the process under which the state would choose who would operate the four casinos and where they would be.
Republican legislative leaders still intend to move forward with legalizing video lottery terminals as well in places like bars and restaurants, but that aspect of this proposal is still being discussed and is not a part of the bill draft obtained by CBS 17.
Sen. Berger’s office noted that the casino legislation was shared with Democrats Saturday evening. Saturday evening, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), who is a top budget writer in the House, said a vote on the casino plan could come as early as Wednesday.
There are some key differences between the current proposal and a previous draft of the legislation. Previously, one company would have been chosen to operate all three non-tribal casinos authorized in the bill. Now, each casino could be operated by the same company or by different companies.
Additionally, the new legislation outlines the process under which local governing bodies will have to grant authority for a casino to be developed in their communities.
The latest plan also makes more counties in the northeastern part of the state potentially eligible.
The bill includes one casino on Lumbee tribal land as well as three non-tribal casinos. House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) has previously said it has been expected those other three casinos would go in: Anson, Rockingham and Nash counties. However, the bill does not specify counties by name.
As has previously been disclosed by Republican legislative leaders, the bill contemplates the creation of “rural tourism districts,” each of which could have a casino and a variety of other amenities.
The criteria for where a casino could be located include the following: is a tier one county; has a majority of its land within 90 miles of an international airport; a border county and east of counties traversed by I-77 and west of or in a county traversed by future I-73; a border county traversed by I-85; a county traversed by Interstate 95 and traversed by or north of U.S. 64; a county east of the counties traversed by I-95 and traversed by or north of U.S. 64; does not contain Indian lands with gaming as of July 1, 2023; has a population of less than 100,000.
Under the bill, the Secretary of Administration would choose three locations where the tourism districts could be established. There could not be more than one in a county. Additionally, the districts can’t be within 75 miles of each other.
The businesses seeking to develop those districts would have to meet all of these criteria: create at least 1,750 jobs; invest at least $500 million in private funds in each district; be located in a site that has been deemed eligible through a resolution adopted by the local government; have 10 years of experience in the commercial gaming industry; have 10 years of experience in developing and operating mixed-use, non-gaming real estate projects.
While the developers do have to meet the minimum requirements for jobs created and money invested, they would not be eligible for state tax incentives. Rather, they would receive the license to operate a casino.
The bill establishes a 22.5 percent excise tax on gross gaming revenue. It’s estimated that would generate about $400 million annually in revenue to the state based on an analysis by non-partisan staff at the state legislature. That estimate did not include revenue from the Lumbee casino.
The Lumbee casino would be located in one or more of the following counties: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, New Hanover, Richmond, Robeson, Scotland.
The Secretary of Administration would begin accepting applications from developers no later than Dec. 1.
Companies that apply would pay a $500,000 application fee and a $7.5 million proposal submission fee for each district included in the proposal.
It’s still unclear what path lawmakers will take with this legislation. Sen. Berger has pushed for including the gaming proposal in the state budget. However, Speaker Moore has said there are not enough Republicans in his chamber willing to vote for the budget if gaming is included.
As CBS 17 reported earlier Saturday, Republicans are discussing a plan where they would take gaming and Medicaid expansion out of the state budget and include them in a separate bill.
Saine also said votes for the budget and the combined Medicaid/casino bill would take place on Wednesday and Thursday.