By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Overlooking warnings about addictions associated with expanded gambling and ignoring pleas from their fellow representatives to consider the social costs of more casinos, 68 members of the House of Representatives gave their stamp of approval Tuesday to a bill that paves the way for live dealers and full-fledged Las Vegas-style gaming not only at the current casino, but two additional (total of 3) ones on reservation lands. The Senate concurred with the measure Wednesday, activating a 30-year compact already signed by the Governor and the Eastern Band of Cherokees.
“Las Vegas has now come to western North Carolina. The passage of this bill, in my estimation, was bi-partisan ‘Tom Foolery,'” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina. “The measure will create a few hundred jobs, but also thousands of gambling addicts.”
Proponents of the gambling expansion touted the promise of 400 jobs and the fact that the state is supposed to get 4 to 8 percent of the profits from new games, an estimated $2 million to $3 million per year, initially earmarked for schools. But Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Haywood) said the legislation, especially when considered in light of continuing problems with video poker and sweepstakes, is moving North Caroling incrementally toward becoming a gambling haven.
“What we are talking about is socially corrosive,” he said, explaining his disappointment in the legislation and in the fact that bill sponsors were not interested in a compromise amendment that would have limited casinos to the existing Harrah’s facility. He was among more than a half-dozen lawmakers who argued passionately against Senate Bill 582 and gambling supporters’ efforts to cast it as an economic incentives bill of sorts.
“Parties in power always like to have a theme. … Our slogan has become ‘jobs,’ so what we’re doing is passing legislation in the name of jobs; but it isn’t about jobs, it’s about gambling,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell). “If we continue down this road, where is it going to stop?”
“What we’re getting ready to do is change the way North Carolina looks and I don’t think it is going to be a good look,” he added.
Rep. Mark Hilton (R-Catawba) warned that more gambling would create more addicts. And Rep. Grier Martin (D-Wake) pointed out that while he and Hilton don’t often agree, they do have a similar vision about the sort of state their children should grow up in, and expanded gambling is not part of the picture.
“What’s the model that we are looking for here? Do we want to be like the state of Nevada that has an even higher unemployment rate than North Carolina?” he challenged. “… Can anyone point to a state that has allowed gambling to take it over that is our model for the future of North Carolina?”
Rep. Bert Jones (R-Rockingham) said the bill “dismantles the work ethic that we want to see build up in our young people.”
While Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union) insisted that live dealers, unlike machines, would be able to intervene on behalf of potential problem gamblers, Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) painted a more realistic picture of the gambling industry.
“I’m too fat. Anybody can look at me and tell I’m too fat, but do you think there is any baker anywhere in town that would try to talk me out of eating his bread or his doughnuts or his cakes?” he asked. “I don’t think so. And I don’t think there’s a dealer sitting out there that’s going to tell somebody to stop gambling.”
Pittman encouraged the House to undo the mistake of allowing gambling in the Cherokee nation in the first place.
“You made a mistake. You set the Cherokee house on fire. Please don’t throw gas on the fire,” he said.
Similarly Rep. Jonathan Jordan (R-Ashe) reminded lawmakers that they are not powerless to change course and that hiding behind the jobs excuse is a Machiavellian approach.
“For those of you who think this is a jobs bill, you clearly subscribe to the provision that ‘the ends justify the means.’ We’re going to have these 400 jobs. We don’t care if it’s gambling. We don’t care if it’s an addiction. We don’t care if families are hurt, if society crumbles and is corrupt. It doesn’t matter — we’ve got 400 jobs,” he said. “Four hundred! Why don’t we have legalized drugs and do all kinds of stuff and get some more jobs there?”
Dr. Creech said earmarking some of the profits from the compact for education means that “state government will now partner with the most predatory industry in the country to fleece its own citizens and guests who come as tourists.”
“It means that we have given more legitimacy to an enterprise that North Carolinians have characteristically seen as inherently immoral,” he added. “What is worse, it signals gambling’s increasing power over state politics.”