October 30, 2023 3 min read


North Carolina Lawmakers Wrestle with Casino Legalization in Budget Showdown

A contentious budget addition, presented as a rural incentive development program, earmarked a substantial $1.5 billion state investment for the establishment of three privately operated casinos, with a potential fourth casino managed by the Lumbee Tribe looming over Robeson County

In the closing chapters of this year’s state budget negotiations, the legislative arena buzzed with intensity as lawmakers in North Carolina wrestled over the unexpected proposal to legalize four casinos within the confines of the nearly $30 billion state budget

North Carolina Lawmakers Challenge $1.5 Billion Casino Investment Proposal

The controversial addition pitched as a rural incentive development program, earmarked a substantial $1.5 billion state investment for the establishment of three privately operated casinos. A potential fourth casino, to be managed by the Lumbee Tribe, loomed over Robeson County. Oversight of these establishments was slated for the Department of Commerce, with licensing falling under the purview of the North Carolina Lottery Commission, reported The Carolina Journal.

This audacious move, not subjected to the scrutiny of legislative committees, triggered a wave of dissent among lawmakers, most vocally from the Freedom Caucus, spearheaded by Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, and Sen. Bobby Hanig, R-Currituck. Budget negotiations were momentarily derailed, forcing Senate and House leadership to withdraw the proposal from the budget. However, they emphasized the necessity of gearing up for a robust debate on more tightly regulated gaming options in the forthcoming legislative session.

The heart of the issue revolved around an intricate web of financial interests. An earlier analysis conducted by the Spectrum Gaming Group indicated a potential $1.9 billion market in North Carolina should three new resort casinos emerge. Each facility was projected to generate approximately 3,000 jobs and funnel $30 million into local tax coffers.

Gaming Giants Shape North Carolina’s Casino Landscape Amid Political Intrigue

Various gaming giants had already made their mark. Among them, The Cordish Companies, a Maryland-based commercial real estate group, led the charge, successfully lobbying for the rezoning of nearly 200 acres of land in Rockingham County for an entertainment district.

Behind the scenes, the influence of lobbyists and their financial clout became increasingly apparent. Allegations surfaced regarding significant contributions made by casinos to key state lawmakers’ political campaigns, totaling over $1.4 million. However, a deeper analysis revealed that this financial impact was a mere fraction of the broader contributions flowing from the gaming industry.

The power play extended beyond individual lawmakers to lobbyists, who maneuvered deftly in the legislative corridors, juggling roles between gaming companies and NCInnovation, a privately-run economic development initiative. 

Critics raised eyebrows as NCInnovation secured a $500 million earmark in the final budget, a significant cut from the initial $1.4 billion proposal. The lobbying teams, featuring prominent figures such as Tony Copeland, North Carolina’s former commerce secretary, and Tracy Kimbrell, the ex-general counsel for Sen. Phil Berger’s office, operated in a complex landscape of shifting alliances and political intricacies.

As the legislative session neared its end, the stage was set for a resurgence of the casino debate in 2024. Lawmakers, including Rep. Keith Kidwell, R-Beaufort, voiced concerns not about the concept of casinos per se, but rather the opaque process by which they found their way into the budget. 


Silvia has dabbled in all sorts of writing – from content writing for social media to movie scripts. She has a Bachelor's in Screenwriting and experience in marketing and producing documentary films. With her background as a customer support agent within the gambling industry, she brings valuable insight to the Gambling News writers’ team.

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