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In addition to sports betting, casinos could be considered by North Carolina lawmakers

In this June 23, 2021 photo, a row of slot machines sit empty at Bally's casino in Atlantic City N.J.
Wayne Parry
In this June 23, 2021 photo, a row of slot machines sit empty at Bally's casino in Atlantic City N.J.

State lawmakers are expected to legalize online sports betting this year. But it’s not the only change they’re considering making to gambling laws.

Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, is sponsoring the sports betting legislation. It recently passed the House and is expected to have majority support in the Senate. Saine told the WUNC Politics Podcast that legislators are also talking about legalizing casinos.

"I do think we’ll see something out of the Senate to that effect," he said. "I’ve been with those folks and we’ve talked about it. It may be the year for that as well."

The only legal casinos in North Carolina are operated by American Indian tribes. There's one in Cherokee on the western end of the state, and a new one recently opened in Kings Mountain, near Charlotte. But a new law in Virginia has paved the way for a casino under construction in Danville, just across the state line. Caesars Entertainment is planning to open a temporary location there this summer, with a full resort casino opening next year.

Virginia has also approved casinos in Bristol, Norfolk and Portsmouth, both of which are expected to attract visitors from across the state line in North Carolina. Saine said that will mean North Carolina loses out on tax revenue.

Saine says attitudes toward casino gambling have changed over time. Now they attract development and other amenities where they’re built.

"They’re really becoming more destination-type places, where even if you don’t gamble, there are things to go do," he said, adding that it's a big shift from the old image of a "side-of-the-road little casino, where you’ve got some old lady with a crackly voice smoking a cigarette, drinking her drink."

Casino-related legislation hasn't been filed yet, but legislators still have a few more weeks to file new bills ahead of this year's deadline.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.