North Carolina GOP Abandons Casino Inclusion in 2023-25 Budget Bill

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The push for casino inclusion in North Carolina’s 2023-25 budget bill is being abandoned by the state’s Republican Party. Amid harsh criticism of their clandestine drive to liberalize commercial casino gambling, GOP leaders at the General Assembly announced late Tuesday that the gaming negotiations are officially called off for 2023.

Earlier in the year, state legislators had forwarded a bill to North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper authorizing online sports betting. Senate leader Phil Berger made waves by encouraging a substantial expansion of legal gaming via casino resorts, appealing to fellow Republicans on the Senate floor on May 4, 2023, to back the inclusion of a casino provision in the budget. The provision would have greenlighted casino resort development in the counties of Rockingham, Anson, and Nash.

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Despite initially rallying behind Berger’s call, House Speaker Tim Moore admitted there is insufficient support among House Republicans to pass the budget bill with gaming included. This disagreement created a rift between the two legislative leaders with Berger accusing Moore of reneging on his promise to support the casino initiative.

Facing escalating tension, Berger recanted on Tuesday night, declaring the gaming debacle officially closed for 2023. “We believe that this is the most sensible course of action,” Berger said.

The delay in finalizing the state budget bill, originally due for passing by July 1, necessitates a special session in Raleigh to finalize North Carolina’s biennial spending plan.

Questions have been raised over Berger’s conduct in advocating for his pro-gaming agenda. He reportedly endeavored to reach an agreement with The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based gaming and hospitality corporation, to bestow the latter with exclusive development rights for all three proposed North Carolina casinos. Berger and fellow Republicans have recently been beneficiaries of numerous political donations from Cordish company executives.

In earlier negotiations, Republicans had compromised with Governor Cooper, agreeing to expand access to health care via the federal Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, colloquially dubbed as “Obamacare.” This action aligns with one of Governor Cooper’s prioritized objectives. Berger intended this concession to encourage Cooper and the state Democrats to reciprocate by backing his casino initiative. However, local opposition from county officials and citizens in the areas targeted for casino development created minimal support for the initiative in the capital.

“Differences of opinion were evident. Ultimately, we concluded that no single issue should obstruct the budget,” noted Moore. He revealed that a recent caucus meeting divulged that only 40 out of the 72 seated GOP House members supported the budget bill with gaming included.

Despite the setback, North Carolinians still have access to gambling options. Three tribal casinos are operating within the state boundaries: Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino Resort, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel, and Catawba Two Kings Casino. Furthermore, online sports betting is set to commence operations in January.

With the gaming component being removed from the financial plan, Berger anticipates the 2023-25 budget to be finalized and published on Wednesday. The budget is expected to pass with ease according to Berger and Moore, with the floor votes scheduled for Thursday and Friday. As the budget is retroactive to July 1, the start of the state’s fiscal year, it should be record-straightening without further delay.