In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers dropped a budget provision that would have added four casinos and regulated video gambling machines in the state.
The controversial plan had been holding up passing the 2-year budget, which was due July 1. Legislators instead said they will pass a final budget that will exclude casino gambling but include expanding Medicaid to 600,000 adults, which Governor Roy Cooper and GOP lawmakers agreed to last March.
As House and Senate GOP leaders struggled to find the votes to pass a budget that included gambling, they recently considered a separate casino bill, which would have to pass in order for the Medicaid expansion to occur. Cooper strongly objected to linking the two proposals.
On the X social media site, he wrote, “GOP demand for passage of their backroom casino deal in exchange for a state budget and Medicaid expansion is the most brutally dishonest legislative scheme I’ve seen in my 3+ decades. People are right to be suspicious. Something has a grip on Republican leaders and it’s not the people of NC.”
Most of Cooper’s Democratic allies in the legislature also opposed the arrangement, along with several Republicans. At a news conference announcing the removal of the casino gambling provision, Senate Leader Phil Berger said, “We think this is the best, most prudent way for us to move forward. It’s my belief that the emotion got the better of the discussion and it was time for us to get the other things taken care of.”
House Speaker Tim Moore noted within the House GOP caucus, “clearly there were differences of opinion and at the end of the day, we felt like this issue and no one single issue should hold up the budget.“ Both Berger and Moore commented that plans to expand gambling were done for the immediate future.
Berger and Moore said floor votes on the final 2-year, $30 billion spending plan would occur quickly. They said they expected all Republican lawmakers to vote for the budget bill, with some Democratic support. Berger added, “Medicaid expansion will still be contingent on the budget becoming law.”
Legislative analysts said the casinos would have generated several hundred million dollars in annual revenue for the state by establishing “rural tourism districts” including gambling and other entertainment venues. The districts would promote tourism, generate jobs in economically struggling regions, boost tax revenue and allow North Carolina to compete against new casinos across the state line in Virginia.
“That money being spent in Virginia is still largely coming from North Carolina and will continue to do so,” Berger said, according to WDTV.
He added, “When we have a proposal that would create over 5,000 jobs, good paying jobs, increased tax base in rural North Carolina, these same folks come out adamantly opposed to it. It was just pretty clear that the facts were almost beside the point as to what those proposals would do for rural areas. I’ve learned that in an environment like that, you’re unlikely to make any progress.”
Following the announcement that the casino provision would be dropped from the budget, Democratic state Senator Jay Chaudhuri wrote on social media, “For the last few days, House and Senate Dems have stood united against casinos and for Medicaid expansion. Today, we showed the state why Dems still matter.”
John Rustin, director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, applauded lawmakers “who stood their ground, under extreme pressure, to protect our state from the ravages of gambling, gambling addiction and the predatory gambling industry.”
Encouraged by the passage of a bill legalizing sports betting, which will launch next year, lawmakers proposed the measure to authorize four new casinos. Currently in North Carolina, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operates two casinos and the Catawba Indian Nation operates one.