Urgent Action Alert: Contact your Representative before Tuesday of next week
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — North Carolina is one step closer to Las Vegas style gambling and its accompanying societal ills after lawmakers in the House voted 66-49 Thursday to approve Senate Bill 582 on second reading. The measure, which would pave the way for two more casinos (a total of three) in western North Carolina and allow the Eastern Band of Cherokees to bring in live dealers and higher stakes games, will come back to the House for final consideration Tuesday when additional amendments are expected to be introduced.
Thursday’s 90-minute debate included history lessons on the Cherokee nation and the Articles of Confederation, discussion of trade laws and monopolies as laid out in the state Constitution, parsing of the precise meaning of the sovereignty of Indian tribes, mentions of morality and more than a few confessions of avid gamblers. Some lawmakers seemed unable to make up their minds on the controversial issue all the way up until time to vote. And some 30 House Republicans who supported the bill violated their statewide party platform, which clearly states that the GOP opposes gambling.
“There are simply not enough champions on this issue, leaving us most vulnerable to having gambling swallow up this state,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who had earlier on Thursday been invited to address the Republican Caucus on the bill. “This is one of the most disappointing votes I’ve experienced. Even if this does bring initial prosperity, in the long run we’re going to find this is going to have a harsh ending for the economic stability of this state.”
It was promises of prosperity and efforts to promote Cherokee interests that seemed to have turned lawmakers’ heads.
Rep. Roger West (R-Cherokee) said the 400 jobs that expanded gambling is expected to create would make people in Graham and Swain counties, where unemployment is high, think they had “died and went to heaven.” Similarly, Rep. Phillip Haire (D-Haywood) praised the tribe for its success with existing Harrah’s Casino and the surrounding resort, but said it was like a car running on three wheels and needed the expansion to truly excel.
“We go all out to recruit new businesses and this is one that wants to come in and is not going to cost North Carolina any money, but will make us some money for education,” he said as he urged support.
But Rep. Ray Rapp, also a Haywood Democrat who offered highest praise for the stewardship that Cherokees have shown in handling their resources, pointed out that the funding for schools — an expected $2 million to $3 million per year that would come to the state as a percentage of new game revenues — was negligible, especially in light of the increasing cost of law enforcement to deal with accompanying crime that more gambling will bring and societal costs incurred by the state as more gamblers become addicts and less able to manage their families and finances.
Most importantly, he warned of the broader fallout the bill could have.
“What I don’t want to see happen is that North Carolina becomes the state of gambling. But if I look around, and this is a small piece of it in the bill we’re looking at, combined with what we’re involved with, with the video gambling and video sweepstakes, I see some dark days ahead for North Carolina,” Rapp said as he promised to bring forth an amendment during the next debate that could make the bill less egregious.
Representatives Mark Hilton (R-Catawba), Bert Jones (R-Rockingham), Dan Ingle (R-Alamance), Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus), and Ric Killian (R-Mecklenburg) spoke against the bill primarily because of the increasing crime and other problems that expanded gambling would bring, while House Majority Leader Paul Stam (Wake) explained the bill’s potential constitutional conflicts and said it was the “worst deal for the state of North Carolina” that he had ever seen. He said the bill, which guarantees the Cherokees exclusive gambling rights west of I-26, would create a monopoly and potentially violate four provisions of the Constitution.
Jones told the House that the bill would not truly create legitimate jobs or else he would be fighting for them in his own district.
“Folks, it is a moral issue. I know there are people who feel like the government shouldn’t weigh in on moral issues. If that’s the case while we are here this session perhaps we should go ahead and take a stand and legalize prostitution… that would be creating jobs,” he said tongue in cheek, adding that “drug trafficking” and “loan sharking” would also fill the jobs bill.
Killian, a real estate investor, said the risks of bringing table games and expanded gambling to North Carolina would outweigh any potential economic rewards.
“Las Vegas is the foreclosure capital of the country,” he reminded fellow lawmakers.
And Pittman, a pastor, cut to the heart of the issue.
“I don’t believe we can help any people by encouraging them to adopt corrupt practices. Over the years of our relationship with the Cherokees, we’ve brought problems to them as associated with alcohol. … We’ve brought them diseases that this continent didn’t know until we came here. We’ve brought them death and destruction through warfare and displacement from their land,” he said. “Now we’re bringing them corruption through gambling and we want to do more of that to degrade the moral fiber of their society even further?”
“I know a lot of people might disagree with me that gambling is immoral, but I believe it is a mutual effort to steal from each other and I consider that breaking one of the Ten Commandments; and as a Christian, I cannot support that,” he added.
Rep. Kelly Hastings (R-Cleveland), who also opposed the measure, told the House that gaming is a very divisive issue even among the Cherokees who live on the Qualla Boundary.
But the bill’s proponents, several of whom shared their own Cherokee remembrances from childhood visits and more recent gambling outings, insisted that the live dealer games would “lift people out of poverty” and bring in millions of dollars from out-of-state gamblers who had previously been heading to Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Some insisted that since gambling is already established in the state, there is no reason to fight its expansion.
“People are going to gamble; they are going to drink and smoke and overeat like I do,” said Rep. Owens (D-Camden).
Rep. Patsy Keever (D-Buncombe) said the expansion would not change gambling habits. Rep. Glen Bradley (R-Franklin) insisted that the state shouldn’t even have the right to decide the issue because the Cherokee nation is sovereign. And Rep. Pat McElrath (R-Carteret) said her 86-year-old mother had fun during a recent trip to Harrah’s Casino with family.
If the bill passes third reading on Tuesday, it will head back to the Senate for concurrence.
“With Class III Gaming added to much of their current gambling offerings and more than one casino in the western part of our state, Las Vegas, will indeed have come to North Carolina — a prospect most people in this state, I believe, would find disturbing,” Dr. Creech added. “North Carolina has always resisted and rejected this form of gambling.”
Take Christian Action: Contact your Representative in the North Carolina House without delay. To find out how your lawmaker voted on SB 582, click here. If your Representative voted against the measure, ask him/her to remain strong and vote “No” again. If your lawmaker voted “Yes,” ask him/her to reconsider and please vote “No.” Make certain that your tone and remarks are always respectful.
To know who represents you in the NC House and their contact information click here. Then, click ‘Take Action,’ fill out or make any necessary edits to your information, and click ‘Continue.’ You can then click your Representative’s name to see their phone number to call their office, and you can click ‘Send Message’ to submit your written message to your Representative.