New North Carolina casino language seems to open the process to competitive bidding. However, prohibitive applicant restrictions still earmark the contract to one company.
The language now instructs the NC Secretary of Administration to independently consider applications for each of the three commercial casinos. Previously, the bill required the Secretary of Administration to award the contract to one company to build all three casinos.
Yet, applicants are still required to have 10 years of experience both in the commercial gaming industry and operating mixed-use, non-gaming real estate projects.
That along with limitations on the placement of the casinos points to giving Baltimore-based casino developer and operator Cordish Cos. a monopoly. Other casino companies wouldn’t meet the real estate requirement.
Local news station CBS 17 first reported the new casino language, which came from the office of Senate President Phil Berger.
The legislature could vote on casino and video lottery terminal gaming expansion this week as part of the state budget or a separate bill. However, sources tell PlayUSA that building frustration with what Gov. Roy Cooper called a “backroom casino deal” makes it unlikely to resolve this week.
Additional changes to NC casino bill
Although no counties are specifically mentioned in the bill, legislative leaders have previously spoken of Anson, Nash and Rockingham as “rural tourism districts.”
The new language potentially makes more counties eligible for casino development.
Here are the current convoluted, expanded parameters for eligibility:
A development tier one county with most of its land within 90 miles of an international airport that has a population less than 100,000 and does not contain Indian land. Is any of the following — a border county east of counties traversed by I-77 and west of or in a county traversed by future I-73; a border county traversed by I-85; a county traversed by or east of I-95 and traversed by or north of US 64.
Additional changes to the casino language include:
- Recommends that the Secretary of Administration begin accepting casino applications Dec. 1 and do so for 60 days. Then evaluate proposals and select the winning bid(s) within another 60 days.
- Rather than a $25 million proposal submission fee for all three commercial casinos, makes the fee $7.5 million for each casino with a non-refundable $500,000 application fee.
To facilitate a true competitive bid process, casino companies are asking lawmakers to remove the real estate requirement, allow more counties the opportunity to participate and have the process go through the Lottery Commission.
The bill also permits the Lumbee Tribe to build a casino on tribal lands. But first it has to obtain full federal recognition. A bill in Congress could grant the tribe that status.
NC gaming expansion push getting messy
The North Carolina legislature has been working on a budget for months. The budget was due July 1. Legislative leaders want to complete the budget this week.
A NC legislative source previously told PlayUSA that the Senate was “dug in” on including the authorization of casinos and video lottery terminals in the budget.
House Speaker Tim Moore said Republican votes weren’t there to include the gaming expansion in the budget. The legislative source said the Senate was playing hardball with the House, threatening to remove local funding projects from the budget without the revenue from gaming expansions.
The House wants to pass the budget with only one Republican vote, according to local news outlet WRAL. That means getting 61 of 72 Republicans to sign off to reach a majority of the 120-member body.
Getting that many Republicans to support gaming expansion won’t happen. But by putting the gaming expansion in a separate bill, it won’t need to reach such a high bar.
However, Cooper, a Democrat dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature, does not support the gaming expansion, at least as it is constructed this session. Cooper signed a bill earlier this year legalizing commercial sports betting and parimutuel wagering.
CBS 17 reported that lawmakers were considering separating the gaming expansion from the budget and placing them with a Medicaid expansion. Cooper is leading the charge to expand access to Medicaid. So attaching expanded gaming to Medicaid could make it more difficult for him to veto the bill.
With the legislative wrangling surrounding the North Carolina gaming expansions, Cooper lashed out Saturday in a tweet, saying:
“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.”