Raleigh, N.C. — A divided House Commerce Committee backed legislation Wednesday that would allow nonprofits to stage casino nights as fundraisers up to four times a year in restaurants or other facilities that serve alcohol.
House Bill 809, which was approved by a 27-18 vote that split both Democrats and Republicans, next moves to a House judiciary committee.
Under the bill, only facilities with Alcoholic Beverage Control permits could host the casino nights, and they would be limited to two per month.
Sponsor Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, said the bill would help specify what's allowed in the state, noting that some district attorneys are more zealous than others on cracking down on casino nights as illegal gambling. Putting ABC permits at risk for any violations would ensure that the host facilities would police the events.
That assurance wasn't good enough for some of his Republican colleagues and longtime gambling foes from the Christian Action League and Family Policy Council.
"I'm not sure about the charitable nature of any of this," said Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake.
"We may be taking care of children – I'd rather have my children home playing ball, taking hayrides and things – (but) I'm going to have to oppose the bill because it does open up gambling – wide open – in North Carolina," said Rep. Robert Brawley, R-Iredell.
Rev. Mark Creech of the Christian Action League said wrapping gambling in the guise of a charitable fundraiser doesn't change the fact that it's gambling.
"It is a fallen angel with all the same minions of commercial gambling," Creech said, "This bill, in essence, is a de facto form of legalized casinos across our state."
Bill Brooks of the Family Policy Council said allowing some casino nights would make it difficult for law enforcement to distinguish between legal events and illegal gambling.
"Casino nights ... will morph into something bigger and worse," Brooks said.
Frank Gray of the North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association said his group's members often get requests from groups to host casino nights. He also differentiated the events from gambling, saying no one's money is at risk playing the games.
"It's good for business; it's good for the nonprofit," Gray said.
Rep. Marvin Lucas, D-Fayetteville, said the proposal also "makes us less hypocritical as a state." Countless churches host bazaars, high school football games conduct raffles and other groups have turkey shoots, he said, and none of those gambling enterprises is as accountable as the casino nights would be under Boles' bill.