As North Carolina house members convened privately to discuss the possibility of expanding gambling in the state, a coalition of social conservatives, business operators, and political candidates made their voices heard on Tuesday, urging lawmakers to reject proposals aimed at permitting additional casinos and legalizing state-wide video gaming machines.
Residents from Rockingham, Anson, and Nash counties, previously designated as potential locations for non-tribal casinos within proposed "entertainment districts," visited Raleigh to advocate against this initiative, the Associated Press reported.
They expressed concerns over the lack of public discourse surrounding gambling proposals, which may ultimately find their place in the forthcoming state budget bill, pending approval by the General Assembly next week, should sufficient House and Senate Republicans endorse them.
In a gathering of approximately 50 individuals, holding placards reading "Keep Our Community Great," the opposition's rally contrasted with the well-funded lobbying efforts by gambling interests during this legislative session.
While the news conference unfolded, House Republicans held a closed-door caucus meeting lasting over three hours. Speaker Tim Moore later revealed that discussions within the caucus encompassed the level of support for casinos, video gambling terminals, and other gambling options.
Lawmakers are eyeing further gambling expansion in North Carolina after the General Assembly previously passed legislation in June authorizing sports betting, slated to commence next year. Presently, the state houses three casinos operated by two American Indian tribes.
The developments also come after the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning of 192 acres of farmland near Madison for highway commercial usage last month, potentially paving the way for a casino development.
Certain legislators have argued that the prospect of establishing three casinos and potentially another gambling operation in southeastern North Carolina could yield benefits such as increased state and local revenues, job creation, and serve as a measure to counteract the proliferation of gambling activities in neighboring states, with a particular focus on Virginia.
Speaker Tim Moore
Speaker Moore informed reporters that party leaders were in the process of gauging Republican support for further gambling expansion, as it usually necessitates the backing of a majority of the 72 Republicans in the House to go forward. "I want to know where our caucus is, and we just have to have a count, and we don’t have it yet," Moore was quoted as saying in the Associated Press report.
Specific details regarding the debated gambling provisions were not disclosed, although Speaker Moore confirmed that they differed from ideas previously made public earlier in the year.
Any final budget containing provisions to expand gambling would require Senate Republican approval, ultimately leading to consideration by Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
To mitigate the impact of gambling expansion, some speakers at Tuesday's rally proposed that legislators mandate local voter approval, via a referendum, before the construction of a casino could proceed.
"This is not about politics. This is about people. This is about the next generation. Our kids today have enough bad things on their doorstep," the report quoted Joni Robbins, a real estate agent from Nash County. "If you mess with our kids, we will vote you out," he said at the news conference.
Moore said discussions have focused on leaving casino decision-making to county commissions and city councils, whom voters elect, rather on local referendums specifically.