North Carolina’s top legislators have said multiple gaming expansion proposals, including potential casino expansion and video lottery terminal (VLT) regulation, are no longer on the table as lawmakers prepare to adopt a new state budget and conclude the 2023 session.
Casino expansion had become arguably the biggest wedge issue between Senate and House negotiators in budget talks as negotiations continued on for several months past the beginning of the state’s new fiscal year on July 1.
North Carolina’s legislature comprises a Republican supermajority in both chambers, allowing them to override any potential veto of bills from Democratic Governor Roy Cooper.
However, despite support from Senate Majority Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, Republicans were unable to muster enough support to pass a budget that included casino and VLT expansion.
Berger confirmed late on Tuesday that casinos would not be in the budget, nor did he expect that gaming expansion would be voted on separately in the immediate future.
“It was just pretty clear that the facts were almost beside the point as to what those proposals would do for rural areas and the emotion that was actually permeating every bit of discussion about that had sort of overtaken,” Berger said.
“I've learned that in an environment like that you’re unlikely to make any progress, and so it was my belief that it was time for us to move forward.”
“Clearly, there were differences of opinion,” Moore said when asked about the House divide on casino legislation. “At the end of the day, we felt like this issue and no one single issue should hold up a budget.”
In addition to some moral concerns over gaming expansion, the casino expansion plan received criticism in that it appeared to be tailormade to award the three new licenses to only one operator.
Draft language would require extensive experience in both gaming and non-gaming commercial real estate, as well as local ties to North Carolina, a combination that would heavily favor the Maryland-based Cordish Companies relative to any other prospective casino operators.
North Carolina’s 2023-25 budget measure, House Bill 259, was released publicly on Wednesday and is expected to receive its first votes in the House and Senate as soon as Thursday.
Although casino expansion, VLTs and online casino are not part of the budget plan, provisions to alter the state’s yet-to-launch sports-betting program and limit the sale of online lottery games are due to be included in the budget that will be voted on this week.
As previously reported by Vixio GamblingCompliance, the budget bill proposes to remove the maximum of 12 licenses that can be awarded by the North Carolina Lottery Commission to offer online wagering, and instead requires operators to reach a “written designation agreement” with a professional sports team, NASCAR racetrack, or PGA Tour golf course in order to be considered for a license.
Under an existing law that was adopted in June, the licenses would not be tethered to an existing land-based entity that would require a market-access agreement for online operators.
The budget bill also includes provisions designed to curb the expansion of iLottery in the state, leaving no doubt as to the intent in a section explicitly titled “Limit Online Lottery Games.”
The state lottery commission approved new rules in August to permit digital instant games, but legislators appear to be pumping the brakes on those efforts, including language in the bill that would prohibit “casino-style games” that are provided by virtual versions of the game.
A digital instant game would be considered a casino-style game if it involves the use of a random number generator for each play, or includes cascading reels, among other features.