RALEIGH, N.C. — Changes to North Carolina's gambling laws to permit live table games on Cherokee lands may now be just one vote away from Gov. Bev Perdue's desk.
The House has approved Senate Bill 582, a measure that would update the compact between the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, allowing Vegas-style table games in Western North Carolina.
Live-dealer gaming is currently prohibited by state law. The new compact would lift that restriction for the Cherokee nation. In return, the state would get a cut of the new table games for the next 30 years - a deal projected to be worth $60 to $90 million over that period.
The compact also would allow the tribe to build two more casinos on its western North Carolina lands. One would be in Murphy. But tribal leaders say those satellite operations are still in the planning phases.
Bill supporters say the compact would create 400 high-paying jobs in counties with double-digit unemployment. Tribal leaders say it could also boost the area's economy by attracting more tourism.
"It gives us a further opportunity to reach out and broaden our market, and really to create this destination resort that we've been working on for a number of years," said Eastern Band Principal Chief Michell Hicks.
Currently, Hicks says, the casino in Cherokee offers live "dealers" and chips, but the cards are replaced by a video screen. The new compact would allow true table gaming.
"When folks come to Cherokee, there’s various parts of the clientele that – that’s what they look for. They want that engagement with the live dealer," Hicks said. "It enhances the entertainment."
The vote was 68-49 — about the same margin as when the House gave tentative approval last week. But the vote didn't follow party lines. In fact, liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans became unlikely allies against the bill.
Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Haywood, called the proposal "socially corrosive."
"I put it in the context of what’s going on with our video gambling, as well as the sweepstakes machines that are spreading across the state," Rapp said. "It’s part of a big picture."
"We’re moving NC into becoming the state of gambling," said Rapp. "This is just one small piece in this broader expansion."
"I'm ashamed. I'm very ashamed," said Rep. Mark Hilton, R-Catawba. "Is this what you call 'good'?"
The bill now returns to the Senate, which is expected to back the House's changes. If it does, the bill's next stop is the desk of Governor Bev Perdue, who negotiated the contract and is expected to sign it.