Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that would clarify that nonprofits can hold casino-themed fundraisers met with skepticism in the House Judiciary A Committee Wednesday.
House Bill 809, which Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, said would to clarify state law, would allow nonprofit groups to hold four game nights per year. It would allow those attending the fundraiser to pay for chips that could then be used to play roulette, blackjack, poker, craps, keno and "Merchandise" wheel of fortune. At the end of the night, chips could be traded in for raffle tickets that could then be entered into drawings for prizes. The more chips somebody wins, the better the chances of winning the drawings.
"They are fun, and they serve a great purpose," Boles told committee members Wednesday.
Fundraisers would have to be held at a qualified establishment that holds an Alcohol Beverage Control permit.
Boles said that enforcement of the state's current law was spotty. Nonprofits in some jurisdictions were holding the game nights without incident. In other counties, district attorneys are blocking the game nights from being held.
"We've heard fairly limited feedback from our members," said David Heinen, director of public policy for the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits. Those that had showed interest in the bill, he said, just wanted to know what rules they should follow.
Michael Martino, general manager of the Sheraton Imperial Hotel in Durham and a spokesman for the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association, said his members also wanted clarity on the rules.
"The bill will provide clarity and guidelines for how these events should be held," Martino said. "This bill does not authorize or condone gambling of any kind. It just gives nonprofits a creative way to raise funds and means good business for North Carolina's hotels and restaurants."
However, representatives of socially conservative groups said the measure would open the muddy the state's gambling laws.
"This raises the question of who and how many entities could own this otherwise illegal equipment," said Jerry Royal of the North Carolina Family Policy Council.
He pointed to North Carolina's experience with video poker machines, in which legal machines provided cover for the owners of illegal equipment.
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, called game nights "gambling on training wheels" and said they would prey on low income people.
"There is nothing that more negatively injures the poor and exploits the most vulnerable among us than gambling," Creech said.
Several members of the committee also expressed reservations about the bill.
"This is an entrance-way for the mafia," said Rep. Bob Steinburg, R-Chowan. "Mob interests are very much behind these initiatives."
There may also be a constitutional question surrounding the bill. The measure would allow nonprofit game nights only east of Interstate 26. That's to keep it from conflicting with North Carolina's tribal compact between the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokees, which has the exclusive right to operating gambling enterprises in the western part of the state.
An analysis accompanying the bill suggests there could be constitutional problems raised by making something like a game night a crime in one part of the state but not another.
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, the committee chairman, said he wasn't sure if the bill would move forward. Wednesday, he said, it wasn't clear the measure had the votes to pass.