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Four casinos could come to rural NC under legislative proposal

A gambler plays a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J. on Aug. 8, 2022.
Wayne Parry
/
AP
A gambler plays a slot machine at the Hard Rock casino in Atlantic City, N.J. on Aug. 8, 2022.

State House and Senate leaders are considering legalizing up to four new casinos across the state.

Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters Thursday that Republicans are working on legislation that would allow for casinos in Nash, Rockingham and Anson counties, as well as one run by the Lumbee Tribe in southeastern North Carolina.

Berger and House Majority Leader John Bell say the move could bring tourism dollars and economic development to areas of the state that need a boost. The legislation might also allow for video lottery terminals, which can resemble slot machines.

"We're talking entertainment districts, we're not talking just a casino in a motel," Bell told the WUNC Politics Podcast. "We're talking restaurants, entertainment venues, we're talking water parks, we're talking family resorts, we're talking facilities that are looking at a minimum of a half-billion-dollar investment to start, with up to 1,700 jobs at an average salary of $50,000 a year — for an area that is closing Walmarts and Sheetz gas stations. And so those are big economic drivers."

The idea is prompted in part by a newly opened casino in Danville, Virginia, that’s attracting a lot of visitors from across the state line in North Carolina. Virginia has also authorized new casinos in Portsmouth and Norfolk, which are also close to the state line.

"Gaming is more prevalent today than what it was a few years ago, so conversations have evolved," said Bell.

Berger says a bill hasn’t been introduced yet but could come up before the legislature adjourns for the year. Bell said a draft version is circulating this week among House Republicans.

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

Casino developers are already looking to rezone land in Rockingham County, north of Greensboro and Stokesdale. That proposal is also generating controversy among neighbors of the largely rural location, WRAL reported.

Berger says a casino project could generate more than 1,000 new jobs.

"I think the benefit to any county, which would include Rockingham, would be the ad valorem tax base that would be generated, the sales tax additions, that would be generated," he said.

Localities could decide whether they want to allow a casino, although it's unclear at this point if there would be a ballot referendum, or if county commissioners and town councils would make the call.

A casinos bill would be the second major loosening of the state's gambling laws this year. A bill legalizing online sports betting was recently signed into law, and that gambling will begin sometime next year.

North Carolina already allows several casinos, but they're operated by Native American tribes — the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Indian Nation.

Multiple gambling companies have hired prominent North Carolina lobbyists this year, lobbying registration records show.

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