Group Challenges North Carolina Land Rezoning In Court

Written By Derek Helling on October 31, 2023
phil berger speaks

Humanity continues to show that it has yet to learn the lesson of the tragedy of Icarus. The consequences of North Carolina officials flying too close to the sun in their push for further gambling expansion amid the legalization of online sports betting in the state have developed even further.

A non-profit organization in Rockingham County, North Carolina is challenging the recent rezoning of nearly 200 acres of land in the county. Even if the lawsuit fails, it signals resistance to the notion of brick-and-mortar commercial casinos in the state.

Citizen group files lawsuit to reverse rezoning

In late August, leaders in Rockingham County voted to rezone 192 acres of land. However, the company NC Development Holdings had recently purchased that land. At that time, residents of the county expressed dissatisfaction with the decision to designate the land for commercial use.

The reason was clear; NC Development Holdings shared an address with The Cordish Companies. The Cordish Companies operate multiple Live!-branded casinos in several states. Essentially, the writing on the wall said that the land would be for a casino.

Since the rezoning vote was a success regardless of the public opposition, a group called Citizens for Good Growth has filed a lawsuit against Rockingham County and others. The others include NC Development Holdings.

The suit argues that the County broke multiple state laws when it rezoned the land. It also states that commercial use of the land would do irreparable harm to the organizations and people operating in the immediate vicinity if the land operates for commercial purposes.

The group behind the lawsuit also alleges a conspiracy involving one of the state’s foremost lawmakers. The Cordish Companies become involved again in that way.

From Raleigh to Rockingham County

In September, an attempt to include an item in the North Carolina budget that would have authorized four commercial casinos in the state failed to pass. While the language of the amendment would have seemingly created a bidding process for the privilege to operate those casinos, the screening process seemed to heavily favor The Cordish Companies.

One of the most vocal supporters of the casino amendment was Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger. According to a news article by Emily Mikkelsen of MyFox8, Citizens for Good Growth argues that campaign donations from people connected to The Cordish Companies swayed Berger.

Furthermore, the group points out that Berger’s son Kevin is on the Rockingham County Board of Commissioners. The suit does not name either Berger or The Cordish Companies as defendants. Also, the donations from individuals connected to The Cordish Companies were made following applicable laws.

At the same time, the connecting of the dots between the donations and the land rezoning seems deliberate. Should Citizens for Good Growth fail in its attempt to undo the zoning, it could provide fodder to try to sway public sentiment against casino legislation in Raleigh.

It’s uncertain if Berger or others will try to legalize commercial casino gaming in North Carolina again soon. If they do, they might be more cognizant of the timing of the issue.

Photo by AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including finance, regulation, and technology in the gaming industry. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa and resides in Chicago

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