RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The path forward for a significant expansion of legalized gaming in North Carolina is uncertain after House Speaker Tim Moore (R) said there aren’t enough votes to include it in the state budget, according to an email first reported by CBS 17.
Moore sent the email late Wednesday evening following a closed-door meeting with House Republicans about a proposal to legalize casinos and video lottery terminals statewide.
“To be clear, we will not pass a budget that does not have 61 Republican votes,” Speaker Moore writes. “As you can see there are not 61 Republicans willing to vote for the budget if it includes gaming.”
He also said there would be another caucus meeting next week to discuss the budget without gaming included.
His office said discussions about that issue continue.
However, on Thursday, Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) shot down the idea of taking up gaming as a separate piece of legislation.
“I think it’s either in the budget or we don’t have a particular pathway as far as gaming that I can think of,” he said.
The details of the proposed gaming expansion have not been made public and will not be until the budget is released, Berger said.
Republican leaders have said the plan calls for creating four entertainment districts that would include a variety of amenities in addition to casinos. They would be located in Anson, Rockingham and Nash counties along with a fourth casino that would be on Lumbee tribal land.
Speaker Moore has maintained that any proposal that gets to the House floor must have the support of a majority of his party’s members. Moore personally has been supportive of the gaming proposal and said that the lawmakers representing the communities where the casinos would go are in support too.
The gaming talks have occurred as Republicans have tried to resolve differences they have among themselves regarding the state budget.
The fiscal year began July 1 with no new budget in place. Republican leaders indicated they’re aiming to move forward with votes on the budget, which has not been made public, next week.
“And, now, it looks like they don’t have the votes. So, let’s get on with the budget. But, I think the people of North Carolina have really lost a lot during these last 70 days,” said Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham). “For them to propose to stick in a 600-page budget hoping it would sail through was a bad idea in the first place.”
The budget impasse has led to a delay in implementing Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and has tied up pay raises for teachers and state workers at a time when those agencies are struggling to hire people.
Rep. Lindsey Prather (D-Buncombe) raised concerns about the state legalizing additional gaming options, describing the industry as “predatory.”
“Why can we not just deal with this separately? There are real implications and this state is suffering right now and will continue to suffer until we pass a budget,” she said.
The issue has gained traction in GOP primary races in North Carolina for governor and lieutenant governor, as some candidates have voiced their opposition amid concerns raised by community members who worry about negative impacts of the casinos.
On Thursday, the Conservative Political Action Committee tweeted, “Lots of troubling reports of backroom deals and arm twisting coming out of North Carolina.” The group also urged the members of the Freedom Caucus in the House to “hold the line.”
Donald Trump Jr. also weighed in, calling the situation “outrageous.”
Sen. Berger says he views the plan as being helpful for economic development, pointing to the thousands of jobs the casinos would create.
He lives in Rockingham County, where one of the casinos would go. That’s near Danville, Va., where a casino opened earlier this year and is drawing customers from North Carolina.
“The case for enhancing economic development in rural counties that will occur by the authorization of these rural entertainment districts is one that is solid,” he said. “It is crystal clear that the dollars for that gaming is already in the process of moving from North Carolina into Virginia.”