RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — State lawmakers could authorize four new casinos to open in North Carolina, Republican legislative leaders said Thursday, providing new details of the ongoing talks surrounding gaming legislation.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) said the four locations would include: Nash, Rockingham, and Anson counties, as well as, in a part of eastern North Carolina that would be operated by the Lumbee Tribe.
“The response that we’re hearing from legislators from those regions has been supportive because they see it as a way to really spur the economy,” said Moore. “There is more support for this proposal than there was for some of the sports betting.”
Potential legislation would also legalize video lottery terminals in places like bars and restaurants statewide.
The proposal that’s still under consideration would create four “entertainment districts” that would feature more than casinos. The concept would include a variety of developments like retail, restaurants, hotels, and housing.
“All of that would be a significant infusion into a location,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham).
The potential sites in Nash, Rockingham, and Anson counties were considered by a conservative group called Greater Carolina in a recently released study by Spectrum Gaming that looked at the potential of North Carolina adding three more casinos. The study estimated those three casinos would generate about $1.6 billion annually in gross gaming revenue. It also found an estimated “casino leakage to Virginia” of about $259 million annually in gross gaming revenue.
While the Lumbee Tribe is still seeking federal recognition, Moore said he does not believe there would need to be any action taken by Congress because the casino matter is “entirely a state licensure agreement.”
Speaker Moore said the House received a draft proposal from the Senate on Wednesday which was being shared with leadership.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) cautioned against characterizing it as a “Senate proposal” and said lawmakers in both chambers have been part of the discussions.
Berger also said he’s been vocal about the issue for a few months as four casinos have opened in Virginia recently. The latest one to begin operations is in Danville, Virginia, which is about 25 miles from where Berger lives in Eden.
“What we’re seeing at the present time, although it’s not fully baked, is a movement of those kinds of dollars out of North Carolina into Virginia,” he said.
A group called the “Coalition to Stop Reckless Gambling” has begun a digital advertising campaign seeking to stop the idea from going forward.
Some people in the communities where the casinos would go are also raising concerns.
Leaders of Camp Carefree in Rockingham County oppose an effort by NC Development Holdings to rezone property on U.S. 220 adjacent to the camp. Records with the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office show that the company is tied to the Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based casino developer.
Camp Carefree serves children with chronic illnesses and disabilities.
“We just don’t want a development like this to impact our summer program and take away from these kids who already don’t have a lot,” said Ryan Joyce, a summer program director at Camp Carefree.
While the county’s planning board recommended against the rezoning, Rockingham County commissioners will have the final say when they consider the request on Aug. 21.
Berger responded to critics of the rezoning request.
“It appears to me that, one, there’s not an understanding of what we’re talking about,” he said. “And two, my experience, I’ve done land use law over the years. Any time there’s a rezoning, there’s some folks that are opposed.”
Berger said multiple developers have reached out to his office, though he declined to name them.
There are currently three casinos in North Carolina, all of which are on tribal lands in the western part of the state.
When Virginia recently authorized casinos, it was up to people in each of the communities to vote on whether they wanted a casino or not. Four of the five localities that were permitted to have them voted in favor of moving forward. The City of Richmond rejected a casino.
It’s still unclear how the process will work in North Carolina. Berger said there will be some way for the localities to weigh in on the matter. He said it could be left to a vote by a county’s board of commissioners or a city council and not necessarily a ballot measure.
If a community rejects having a casino, it’s unclear whether the state would authorize it to be an option for another community.
Republicans are discussing the issue in the context of the ongoing state budget talks. The new fiscal year began July 1 with no budget agreement in place. A key issue remains how much to cut state income taxes, Republicans say.