With House Republicans not supporting additional gambling expansion, North Carolina Senate Republicans are playing hardball to get the legalization of commercial casinos and video lottery terminals (VLTs) in the state budget.
A North Carolina legislative source tells PlayUSA that Senate Republicans are “dug in” on including the gambling expansion in the appropriations bill.
The source says Senate leadership is telling House members that without the revenue from commercial casinos and VLTs, lawmakers in both houses won’t get their local spending projects in the budget.
Instead, the Senate would only agree to a basic budget covering state government functions and employee pay raises.
The legislative source expressed hope that House members come around on the gambling expansion and avoid the impasse:
“I do think that by the time this marinates over the weekend with members, this could get back on track and maybe could still be voted on and done by Friday of next week with casinos in it.”
During the regular session, North Carolina lawmakers already legalized sports betting and parimutuel wagering this year. They have been working overtime to finish the state budget, which was due July 1.
House Republican votes not there for casinos, VLTs
Raleigh news station WRAL reported that it obtained an email from House Speaker Tim Moore indicating the lack of Republican support for including the gambling expansion.
Caucus whips ran a vote tally this week. According to WRAL, Moore told his fellow Republicans that the House will not pass a budget that does not have 61 Republican votes.
“As you can see, there are not 61 Republicans willing to vote for the budget if it includes gaming.”
There are 72 Republicans in the 120-member House. So Moore seems to indicate that there is support for passage if it includes Democrats. But the House will not move forward on the budget unless it can do so fully on Republican support.
And that’s difficult to do in the Bible Belt state. Some Republican lawmakers have pledged never to vote for gambling expansion for moral reasons. Sports betting would not have passed in the House earlier this year under the same standard.
Gaming expansion has its share of opposition
A group from Rockingham County, one of three counties proposed for commercial casino expansion, took to Raleigh this week to oppose adding casinos.
Casino draft language leaked to the public in July limited commercial casino development to three casinos built by one company with a $1.5 billion investment.
Rather than opening up each casino to a competitive bidding process, requirements seemed to give Baltimore-based casino developer and operator Cordish Cos. a monopoly on North Carolina commercial casinos. That drew opposition from other major casino operators.
Catawba Nation, which operates an Indian casino near Charlotte, also opposes commercial gambling expansion.
The video lottery terminal language being discussed has not yet been released to the public. Earlier this year, Rep. Harry Warren pitched his VLT regulation bill to a House committee. But the VLT language in the appropriations bill comes from the Senate side.
Warren estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 gray machines already operate in North Carolina bars, restaurants, gas stations, truck stops and warehouses.
A Spectrum Gaming market analysis released in March projected that three North Carolina destination resort casinos could generate $1.682 billion annually in gross gaming revenue. While VLT regulation limited to 30,000 machines could produce $1.89 billion annually.