In a significant turn of events, North Carolina Republican legislative leaders have decided to ditch their efforts to expand legal gambling in the state. Instead, they announced on Tuesday their intention to pass a final budget without the much-discussed provisions to allow up to four new casinos in the state.
“We think this is the best, most prudent way for us to move forward,” Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters, as reported by The Associated Press (AP).
Republicans in the North Carolina legislature have been locked in a budgetary standoff, further complicated by disagreements over the inclusion of the provisions related to the expansion of state-sanctioned gambling. This impasse, occurring after months of negotiations, has delayed the enactment of a two-year budget, which was originally scheduled to be in place by July 1.
House and Senate GOP lawmakers had been grappling with the challenge of garnering the necessary votes to authorize the establishment of four new casinos and the legalization and regulation of video gambling machines. Earlier this month, a group of conservatives in the state House expressed their reservations about the proposal put forth by Senate Republicans, which sought to include language expanding gambling in the two-year spending plan.
In recent days, there have been discussions about separating the gambling provisions from the budget bill and making their passage a prerequisite for Medicaid expansion. However, such a move jeopardized a landmark healthcare agreement that Democratic Governor Roy Cooper had struck with GOP legislators six months ago, AP said. Until recently, Republican lawmakers had been staunchly opposed to accepting expansion through the 2010 federal healthcare law.
The ploy to link gambling with Medicaid expansion failed to gain the support of nearly all of Cooper's Democratic allies in the legislature, with Republican holdouts further threatening to derail the bill's progress. In a hastily arranged news conference held at the Legislative Building, House Speaker Tim Moore joined Senate leader Phil Berger in announcing that efforts to advance gambling expansion would be put on hold for the foreseeable future.
“Clearly, there were differences of opinion (within the House Republican caucus) and at the end of the day we felt like this issue and no one single issue should hold up the budget,” Moore was quoted as saying in the report.
Medicaid expansion stands as a top priority for Governor Cooper and his legislative allies. Lawmakers who opposed the attempt to link it with gambling contended that such a move violated the promise made by Republicans within an expansion law signed by Cooper in March. According to that law, the enactment of a budget law was a prerequisite for the expansion of Medicaid. Moreover, a substantial number of Republicans remained dissatisfied with the gambling provisions, further threatening the bill's prospects.
Moore and Berger disclosed that details of the negotiated final two-year spending plan would be unveiled on Wednesday, with floor votes scheduled for Thursday and Friday. They expressed confidence in receiving full Republican support for the budget bill, with expected Democratic votes as well.
The decision comes days after Berger's office released a copy of the legislation that would authorize the creation of additional casinos. The bill called for the introduction of four new casinos in the state. Three casinos would be situated in rural counties meeting specific criteria, including a population of less than 100,000 and proximity to major transportation corridors and international airports. Additionally, one casino would be operated by the Lumbee tribe in southeastern North Carolina.
Lawmakers were 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.