Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers are trying once again to allow alcohol sales at nonprofit "casino night" fundraisers. While the hospitality industry and nonprofits support the change, religious conservatives are solidly opposed.
House Bill 511 passed the House Finance Committee on a voice vote Tuesday, although not a unanimous one. Its next stop is the House floor.
The proposal would allow nonprofits to hold fundraisers with "table games," such as roulette and poker, at a location that holds an Alcoholic Beverage Control permit, such as a restaurant, bar or hotel. They would be allowed to serve alcohol during the event. It would not apply in the area west of Interstate 26 that's governed by the tribal compact.
Sponsor Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, said the measure "will bring clarity into the state of North Carolina.
"You all probably go to game nights at nonprofits" where alcohol is served, Boles told the committee. "That’s because your DA elects not to prosecute. In my community, our DA prosecutes."
A location could host no more than two events per month, and a nonprofit could hold only four such fundraisers per year. They would have to obtain an ABC permit for each event.
North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association counsel Frank Gray told the panel that casino night fundraisers are very popular with nonprofits.
"A lot of our hotel members are asked to host these events," Gray explained. "But there’s uncertainty about the rules for having these events and whether or not you can serve alcohol at the same time."
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said the change would create "unfair competition" between nonprofits that are willing to use gambling and alcohol to raise money and those that are not.
"This activity is illegal," Rustin told the committee. "The question is prosecution and whether law enforcement is enforcing the law."
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said casino night gambling "is not innocuous or less dangerous" because it's for a good cause.
"It is instead a fallen angel with all the same intrinsic minions of illegal gambling," he said.
Creech reminded lawmakers that they've tried to make this change in the past but that the attempts were defeated by social conservatives.
"Gambling in any form always causes social disruption and evil," he added. "When we add alcohol to the mix, we’re only greasing the wheels for these negative behaviors."
Gray disagreed, saying participation in casino night fundraisers is "a voluntary contribution to a cause."
"You’re not risking the rent check," Gray said.