Casino night bill clears Senate with amendment, concern

Posted June 28

— Legislation to legalize charitable gaming nights picked up an amendment Wednesday to allow employers and trade associations to host casino nights as well.

House Bill 511 cleared the Senate 32-15 but not before a number of senators switched their votes from "yes" to "no" on the amendment on the strength of Sen. Chad Barefoot's concerns.

The bill would allow casino-themed fundraisers, something sponsors said is already fairly common in North Carolina but technically illegal. Supporters say these events are a far cry from gambling – winning hands or spins of the roulette wheel are often rewarded with raffle tickets that may win a prize later in the night – but the legislation generated controversy as it has progressed through the General Assembly.

When state Sen. Rick Gunn, R-Alamance, amended it on the Senate floor Wednesday evening to allow not just charities, but businesses and trade associations to host events, the concerns ramped up a bit. These entities would not be subject to the cap of four events a year that charities face.

"I think it creates a loophole for bad actors," said Barefoot, R-Franklin. "You're going to see restaurants with roulette wheels."

Gunn and others, including state Sens. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, and Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell, dismissed Barefoot's argument. For starters, the amendment says that employers and trade associations cannot charge attendees, and a permit is required from the Division of Alcohol Law Enforcement for each event.

The amendment is meant to allow employers and other groups to host fun evenings for their members or employees, Gunn said.

But the amendment eroded some support. Sen. Don Davis, D-Pitt, said he just wasn't convinced the matter was benign. Gunn and others pleaded that charities across the state need the bill.

The bill also has backers from other sectors, including hotels that host casino nights and companies that rent casino equipment and provide dealers.

"I don't think the worst will happen," said state Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham. "I think we're going to see things continue as they are today."

Because of the amendment, the bill heads back to the House for final approval. An earlier version passed there, 78-38.


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