RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – While House Republicans left a closed-door meeting with no final resolution on the path forward for legalizing additional casinos, House Speaker Tim Moore said he still anticipates votes on the state budget next week.
Speaker Moore said his caucus spent more than three hours discussing key issues Tuesday, including how much support there is for a proposal to authorize four more casinos as well as video lottery terminals statewide.
Moore said the House will only proceed with a plan that has majority support from the Republican members.
In addition to asking whether members would support including additional legalized gaming in the state budget, lawmakers could also press forward on the measure through a separate piece of legislation if enough of them are willing to support it. House whips are asking the party’s members about various scenarios to determine what level of support there is.
Moore would not give many details about how the current proposal differs from what leaders have revealed about the plan over the last few months.
They’ve said the casinos would be located in entertainment districts that would be located in: Rockingham, Nash and Anson counties. A fourth casino would be on Lumbee tribal land.
Moore said House leaders raised concerns about draft legislation that called for one company to be chosen to develop all three non-tribal casinos. That’s also been an issue that critics of legalized gaming have highlighted.
“One of the points that our leadership team felt was very important was that it not be limited to one company,” he said. “Look at what the capital investment would be and then allow something so that you could have multiple providers applying for that.”
He also said the final decision on allowing the casinos would rest with local elected officials in the communities where they’d be built. There would not be a referendum for voters to decide.
Recent polling by the conservative John Locke Foundation found 76 percent of voters support a referendum. When lawmakers in Virginia recently allowed casinos, they left the final decision to voters in each of the cities where the casinos would be located.
“Whatever governing board would have jurisdiction, whether it’s the county commission or a city council, the input from that governing board, not a referendum per se. But, you have that local input that way,” Moore said.
He also said that lawmakers representing each of the communities where the casinos would be located have expressed their support.
Some Republicans oppose the idea for various reasons, with some citing religious objections and others raising concerns about negative societal impacts including increased addiction.
The GOP holds a supermajority in the legislature, having precisely enough members to override vetoes by Gov. Roy Cooper (D). It’s unclear if the party would stick together to override a potential veto on the budget if gaming is included.
Opponents who live near the potential casino sites held a protest and press conference outside the legislature on Tuesday as House Republicans held their private meeting. They said they’ve formed a non-profit to raise money for potential lawsuits to try to stop the casino developments from going forward if they’re approved.
Former Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, who is running for governor, has made the issue a key part of his campaign on recent weeks. He spoke at Tuesday’s event and met with some lawmakers, including House Rules Chairman Rep. Destin Hall.
“We’re coming back again next week. So, those things are still being discussed right now,” Rep. Hall told CBS 17 after the caucus meeting. “We’ve not absolutely decided one way or the other.”
Moore said he anticipates the legislature voting on the state budget next week. The details of the budget still have not been made public either. The vote on that could move forward with or without expanded gaming, he said.
Republicans have been meeting privately for several months to work out details of the state’s two-year spending plan. The current fiscal year began July 1 with no new budget in place, leaving things like pay raises, tax cuts and Medicaid expansion on hold.
“All of the big things have, for the most part, been decided at this point. So, really it’s just a matter of resolving those final things, getting everything put in the budget,” Moore said.
Speaking at an event about education on Wednesday, Gov. Cooper said he’s frustrated the budget issue still is not resolved. He’s said he’s open to discussing the gaming issue with lawmakers but is concerned by how few details have been made public.
“The question is why are we going to hold up everything to fight over this casino issue? I would rather it be done separately and that we could debate what percentage the state is going to get,” he said.