After months of closed-door talks over a proposal to authorize more casinos in North Carolina, the top Republican in the Senate has released a copy of the legislation laying out how the development would work.
Legislation provided to The News & Observer by the office of state Senate leader Phil Berger, which was first reported on Saturday by CBS 17, would authorize four new casinos in the state: three in rural counties that meet certain criteria, including having a population of less than 100,000 and being located near a major transportation corridor and international airport, and a fourth to be operated by the Lumbee tribe in southeastern North Carolina.
GOP leaders have discussed specific counties that could receive a casino, particularly Rockingham, which Berger represents in the Senate, and Anson and Nash counties, but the legislation doesn’t mention any of those counties by name. It does, however, state that the Lumbee casino would be located in one or more of the following counties: Bladen, Brunswick, Columbus, Hoke, New Hanover, Richmond, Robeson and Scotland.
Unlike a previous draft of the bill reported on by media outlets earlier this summer that would’ve allowed a single company to run the three casinos to be developed on non-tribal lands, the new version of the bill shared by Berger’s office would allow each casino to be run by the same company or different companies.
Multiple casino developers have made a push to expand in North Carolina as Republicans consider expanding gambling in the state, with several companies making campaign contributions to top Republican and Democratic lawmakers and hiring influential lobbyists and attorneys to represent them before the General Assembly and local officials such as county commissioners, who make land use and zoning decisions.
It’s unclear if Republicans in the House and Senate will reach an agreement on how to move forward with the casino legislation, after budget talks temporarily fell apart last week over Berger’s insistence that the House include the proposal in the state budget bill. The House is preparing to hold separate votes on the budget and a standalone bill containing casinos and Medicaid expansion at the request of lawmakers who opposed the casino proposal, House Appropriations chairman Jason Saine told The N&O on Sunday.
As GOP lawmakers have previously indicated, the legislation calls for the creation of so-called “rural tourism districts” that would include casinos and other developments. Gross gaming revenue generated by the casinos would incur an excise tax of 22.5%.
The purpose of the legislation, lawmakers write in the bill, is to “encourage and promote tourism” in eligible rural counties, and allow for gaming, which lawmakers note is a “new and expanding component of the tourism industry.” The bill goes on to state that since many states allow gaming, “those industry business opportunities and employment opportunities are being lost to this State.”
Under the bill, the North Carolina Secretary of Administration would be tasked with evaluating proposals submitted by casino developers.
Each business seeking to develop one or more of the rural tourism districts would need to create at least 1,750 jobs, invest at least $500 million in private funds in each proposed district, and have at least 10 years of experience in the commercial gaming industry, and in developing and operating mixed-use, non-gaming real estate projects.
The business would also need to propose a district at a site that has been “designated as an eligible site” by a resolution adopted by the appropriate local governing body.
The bill would require the Secretary of Administration to begin taking applications by no later than Dec. 1, and each business would have to pay a $500,000 application fee and a $7.5 million proposal submission fee for each district it wants to develop.