Vote on New North Carolina Casino Could Hit the Ballot Box in 2024

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A voter casts a ballot in Miami, Florida. CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP.

As the Tar Heel State casino debate gains momentum, an additional county is considering its suitability as a potential location for a North Carolina gambling site.

This time, the Nash County Board of Commissioners has voted 6-1 to conduct a referendum, allowing voters to weigh in on the matter in 2024.

One of Four

State lawmakers are working on plans for building four casinos in the state, reportedly in Nash, Rockingham, and Anson counties, and another in the eastern part of the state that is to be operated by the Lumbee Tribe.

House Speaker Tim Moore said, “The response that we’re hearing from legislators from those regions has been supportive because they see it as a way to really spur the economy. There is more support for this proposal than there was for some of the sports betting.”

One of those regions is Nash County which voted 6-1 in favor of putting a referendum before the voters as to whether they believe a casino in their county would be welcome. Nevertheless, the lone dissenter, Commissioner Marvin Arrington, believes the vote should be up to those living in Rocky Mount, the proposed site of the casino, and not the county voters, many of whom would be unaffected.

And although the referendum route was chosen, Commissioner Fred Belfield said he supported a casino but wanted his constituents to make the final call. “I do believe in hearing from the people. I’m not opposed to a casino being located in Nash County,” said Belfield.

Gambling Expansion

The overall bill would include more than casinos, as it would also legalize and legitimize the gray machines known as video lottery terminals (VLTs). Should this proposed gaming bill pass, VLTs would be allowed in restaurants and bars throughout the state.

There would also be designated “entertainment districts” that would support restaurants, nightlife, hotels, and housing in addition to casinos. “All of that would be a significant infusion into a location,” said Senate leader Phil Berger. Part of the reason for the recent interest in building the casinos is the four relatively new casinos operating in neighboring Virginia.

Legislators believe that residents from the Tar Heel State, who are currently crossing the border to gamble in Virginia, would benefit more from either keeping their money within the state by engaging with the three to four casinos under consideration or by participating in other gambling activities like North Carolina sports betting.

“What we’re seeing at the present time, although it’s not fully baked, is a movement of those kinds of dollars out of North Carolina into Virginia,” Berger said.

Pushback on Rezoning

But there has already been some pushback to the rezoning attempts by companies like NC Development Holdings, a firm with ties to the Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based casino developer. According to the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office, NC Development Holdings is requesting that a parcel of land on U.S. 220 be rezoned.

However, Camp Carefree, an organization that helps children with chronic illnesses and disabilities has its own facility adjacent to that land and has already expressed its disapproval.

“We just don’t want a development like this to impact our summer program and take away from these kids who already don’t have a lot,” said Ryan Joyce, a summer program director at Camp Carefree.

Yet Senator Berger remained unfazed saying, “It appears to me that, one, there’s not an understanding of what we’re talking about. And two, my experience, I’ve done land use law over the years. Any time there’s a rezoning, there’s some folks that are opposed.”