RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Nearly half of North Carolinians would support an expansion of casinos in the state, according to a poll released Wednesday as state lawmakers weigh a plan that would authorize four more casinos.
Republican legislative leaders are holding private discussions about a significant expansion of legalized gaming just a few months after approving mobile sports betting.
While no finalized bill has been released, lawmakers are considering creating four “entertainment districts” that would include casinos and other amenities such as hotels, dining and housing. They would be located in Nash, Anson and Rockingham counties as well as on Lumbee tribal land.
The four casinos would be in addition to the three existing ones on tribal land in western North Carolina.
“It’s something that has kind of been thrust on (people) relatively quickly,” said Tyler Andrews, managing editor of NCSharp.com, which released the poll. “They’re weighing it, and they’re seeing a slight edge to having casinos versus keeping them out and losing the revenue.”
While 45% of people surveyed said they support casino expansion, 29% said they oppose it. Another 26% said they were unsure.
“It looks to me like a collective shoulder shrug, like the state of North Carolina was asked a question and said, eh, we could go either way,” said Chris Cooper, an expert on state politics at Western Carolina University. “You’ve got some folks obviously strongly opposed, some strongly in favor. But, mostly kind of a collective so what?”
The survey of 1,000 people also showed about two-thirds of them are concerned about an increase in addictive gambling behavior. But, 58% of people also said they see an increase in revenue for the state as a benefit.
“Overall, the benefit to the community that could come from casino revenue right now in the way that it’s kind of early on and the prospect of just not even knowing what the casinos look like outweigh some of the downsides that might come with problem gambling,” said Andrews.
Along with casinos, lawmakers could vote to approve video lottery terminals statewide in places like bars and restaurants.
The discussion is tied to the ongoing talks about the state budget. Republicans have agreed to portions of that, including a plan to cut the state’s personal income tax rate, but they have not reached a final deal.
The additional gaming could become part of the budget or be voted on as a separate matter if Republicans can reach an agreement on that issue as well.
Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) has emphasized the fact that four casinos have opened in southern Virginia and are drawing residents from North Carolina. One of the potential entertainment districts would go in his home county.
“In some ways, I think it’s been a successful PR strategy by the pro-gambling and pro-casino groups. They have been successful in framing this more as an economic opportunity for the state rather than another sin tax,” said Cooper.
Some residents in Rockingham County have opposed a proposed rezoning of nearly 200 acres of land next to Camp Carefree, which hosts kids with chronic illnesses and disabilities. A petition on change.org had nearly 3,000 signatures, as of Wednesday afternoon.
Rockingham County commissioners are scheduled to discuss the matter at a meeting on Aug. 21.
In Nash County, commissioners voted on a resolution last week that calls for there to be a referendum on the matter. While Virginia lawmakers allowed residents to vote on whether to have a casino, the discussions in North Carolina have centered on leaving the final say to local elected officials.
“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,” said Cooper.