Raleigh, N.C. — The leader of a group representing state workers said Thursday that North Carolina should bet big on casinos as a way to create jobs and expand the tax base.
"That could be billions in revenue to the state of North Carolina," said Dana Cope, executive director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina.
The Eastern Band of the Cherokees has a casino on its tribal lands in the western North Carolina mountains, where people can gamble on slot machines and video poker machines.
Cope said the state could work with the Lumbee tribe to put casinos with gaming tables and dealers on its land in southeastern North Carolina.
"Look at what the Lumbees are doing and see if we can take aspects of what the Cherokees are doing in the western part of the state and try to replicate that in the eastern part of the state," he said.
Incoming Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said he isn't ready to ante up on new casinos in the state.
"I'm not familiar at this point with whether there's any legal authority for the Native Americans in the Robeson County area to have casinos," said Berger, a Rockingham County Republican.
The governor has the authority to negotiate gaming deals with federally recognized Native American tribes, but Congress hasn't yet given the Lumbees full recognition.
Cope said casinos could be a long-term solution to North Carolina's budget woes, but he also is interested in getting people thinking about immediate ways to address a state deficit that is projected to top $3 billion.
SEANC has created a website to solicit ideas from state employees and taxpayers on how the state can generate revenue, reduce spending and be more efficient. A list of ideas would then be forwarded to lawmakers.
"We outlined five or six options that would more than deal with the $3.2 billion budget deficit," Cope said.
Those ideas include privatizing the state-run liquor sales system, ending incentives to lure corporate expansions, reviewing every line item in the state's public and higher education budgets and issuing a moratorium on all private contracts and consultants.