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NC House gives key approval to Cherokee gambling expansion

Posted May 31, 2012

— Live dealers would be able to run table games at the Cherokee Indian casino in western North Carolina under a bill the House gave tentative approval Thursday. 

The Cherokee also could open two more casinos under the bill, which passed 66-to49 Thursday afternoon. 

House members are scheduled to vote again Tuesday, when opponents are expected to try to limit the measure through amendments. If approved again by the House, it would return for a final vote in the Senate before heading on to Gov. Bev Perdue for her signature.

"This means a lot to the folks in western North Carolina," said Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, telling his colleagues that the move would bring jobs to an impoverished region of the state. 

The proposed law allows a new compact signed by Gov. Bev Perdue and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to go into effect. It allows the Harrah's Cherokee casino, which currently has just electronic games, to offer live dealer games like poker, craps and roulette.

The Senate already has passed a version of the bill, which proponents said would bring 400 more jobs to the casino and give the state a cut of the gross proceeds from the new games — a first for North Carolina. The 30-year compact could generate $90 million to the state and school districts that for now will receive the proceeds for classroom personnel and materials.

"This is the worst deal for the state of North Carolina that I have ever seen," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake. He said the proposed law was vulnerable to court challenges that could allow gambling to go on without the state getting a cut of the revenue.

Unlike many bills this session, differences over this measure did not break along party lines. Of the 68 Republicans who control the House, 37 voted against the bill. Democrats voted 36-12 in favor. Five lawmakers did not vote. 

That division was on display this morning during a House Republican Caucus meeting that was partially open to the public. 

Michell Hicks, the principal chief of the 15,000-member Eastern Band, told the caucus he acknowledges the moral criticism by some about gambling and casinos. But he said tribal leaders have been good stewards of the opportunity offered by the federal government to open casinos and to help their people and the region.

The Cherokee has used casino profits to improve education on its lands and created a 300-mile broadband fiber ring in western North Carolina.

"We've got a responsibility for our people," Hicks said, but the tribe also wants to help the citizens of North Carolina. The jobs will provide $65,000 in salary and benefits on average, he said. More than 80 percent of the jobs at the casino complex are held by non-tribal members. Other tribal casinos in the region already offer live dealers.

"We're being squeezed by competition," Hicks said.

After the House vote in the afternoon, opponents said they were disappointed by the vote.

Bill Brooks, with the N.C. Family Policy Council, said many members were mislead by promises of jobs. He said it's unlikely that the Cherokee would be able to deliver on their promise of 400 new positions any time soon.

"They're talking about serving their tribe of 15,000 people. We're talking about its impact on a state of 9 million people," Brooks said. 

Brooks and other opponents said allowing for table games expanded gambling in a way likely to increase crime, gambling addition and siphon money out of the economy from those who could least afford it.

"This will harm the people of North Carolina. It will drive up crime rates. It is not a good deal," said Rep. Mark Hilton, R-Catawba, a social conservative who has been one of the measure's loudest critics. 

Other lawmakers, like Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, said the General Assembly needed to acknowledge there was already gambling going on in the state and a demand for more.

"They run a first-class operation," Owens said of the Casino.

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  • BEACH Jun 4, 2012

    Lumberton needs a casino, where they can offer more jobs, one of the poorest counties in the state, and do they get approved NO

  • JustAName Jun 1, 2012

    "how letting them deal cards would add 400 more jobs." - swbrad

    Cr aps requires at least 2 people, plus pit boss. Roulette at least 1 person, per table, plus pit boss. And they plan on opening 2 other casinos, so there are a lot of other jobs with that.

  • piene2 Jun 1, 2012

    "This is the worst deal for the state of North Carolina that I have ever seen," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake.

    Was he clutching his bible when he said it?

  • piene2 Jun 1, 2012

    ""This is the worst deal for the state of North Carolina that I have ever seen," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake.

  • Rebelyell55 Jun 1, 2012

    Just the next step towards control and taxing the internet sweepstakes operations popping up all over the place.

  • bigal02282 Jun 1, 2012

    "This is the worst deal for the state of North Carolina that I have ever seen," said Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake. He said the proposed law was vulnerable to court challenges that could allow gambling to go on without the state getting a cut of the revenue. And THERE YOU HAVE IT. Republicants could CARE LESS about jobs (the 400 or so it would create), and ALL ABOUT the MONEY coming in to the state, and of course, THEIR SHARE. So if the "deal" doesn't have guarantees for the state, it's bad. Those 400 jobs will end up producing the normal tax revenues and the trickle-down sales of people with money to spend. STAM IS AN ID I OT.

  • ncouterbanks69 Jun 1, 2012

    Oh yes, so that Raleigh can get another source of tax revenue.

    The less I have to pay for the lazy the better.

  • bigheel2k Jun 1, 2012

    swbrad - they are going to be adding several new games such as cra ps (stupid moderators)and roulette as well. They will also be adding more poker and blackjack tables as more people will be coming to play.

  • swbrad May 31, 2012

    They already have dealers at the blackjack tables, but they just push buttons and handle the chips. While I'm certainly in favor of this, I would like to hear how letting them deal cards would add 400 more jobs.

  • grimreaper May 31, 2012

    Well, they don't need the State's approval at all...and the legislature knows it...this is nothing more than token voting...the State has zippo control over what is done on a reservation as they are sovereign...they have treaties with the federal government not the state...

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