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North Carolina Casino Proposal Seems Unlikely As Opposition Mounts

Written By Matthew Kredell on August 18, 2023 - Last Updated on August 28, 2023
North Carolina Casino Expansion Update

The Catawba Nation took to the North Carolina State Capitol this week to voice the Indian tribe’s opposition to the state authorizing commercial casinos and video lottery terminals.

A conference committee of state representatives and senators is currently working out the final details of the 2023 Appropriations Act. Lawmakers are considering including language to authorize casinos and VLTs in the bill.

Newly elected Catawba Nation Chief Brian Harris posted to Facebook that he led a group of five tribal representatives to Raleigh on Wednesday. They met with state legislators with the intent of “gaining support against the commercial casino bill that is being proposed.”

The tribe operates Catawba Two Kings Casino in North Carolina. It’s the closest casino to Charlotte.

Harris provided the following statement to PlayUSA:

“The North Carolina legislature has been considering commercial casinos and other various gaming issues but has not introduced a bill or potential budget language. Everything has been done behind closed doors, without the input of the Catawba Nation, which is poised to make more than a $700 million investment in Cleveland County on a permanent Catawba Two Kings Casino and employ thousands of people. We have no choice but to oppose this concept that would threaten those jobs and investment, as well as the revenue our casino will bring to the state through our compact.”

Opposition mounting from commercial and tribal sectors

Harris posted that the Catawba congregation went from office to office to office in the statehouse and even walked to the governor’s mansion to talk with Gov. Roy Cooper. Harris included a video of House Speaker Tim Moore recognizing the Catawba presence on the House floor.

The Catawba aren’t the only ones opposing the casino legislation. Commercial casino company lobbyists also have been in Raleigh arguing against the language as currently written.

That’s because the draft bill gives one company a monopoly on the North Carolina commercial casino industry. Draft language calls for one company to invest $1.5 billion in building three casinos. The company would pay a 22.5% tax rate on gross gaming revenue.

The language requires that the business demonstrate at least 10 years of experience in the commercial gaming industry AND 10 years of experience developing and operating mixed-use, non-gaming, real estate projects. Those unique restrictions seem intended to hand the contract to The Cordish Cos., which has been angling for political capital in North Carolina.

As a result, only Cordish is lobbying for the bill. Other commercial companies are telling North Carolina lawmakers that there’s a better model to ensure a competitive bidding process with the best operators.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which has the other two tribal casinos in North Carolina, did not respond to requests from PlayUSA to find out its stance on the proposed gambling expansions. Sen. Jim Perry told PlayUSA that the Cherokee are not also lobbying against the commercial casino expansion.

Industry and legislative sources told PlayUSA that there isn’t support in the House for the casino legislation as it currently stands. Sources indicate that VLTs likely will not make it into the bill without casinos

Timeline for North Carolina casino decision

The North Carolina budget is already more than a month late. The fiscal year started July 1. The Appropriations Act was supposed to be done by that date.

But the General Assembly has worked overtime to finalize the details of the state’s $30 billion spending plan. Moore said recently that the budget would not be in place until September.

North Carolina already made one big gaming expansion this session. In June, Cooper signed legislation to legalize online sports betting in North Carolina. Online sports betting could go live in the Tar Heel State as early as Jan. 8.

Photo by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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