By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — More, more, more — that seems the frequent cry from gambling enthusiasts who can’t get enough of the risky and addictive business. Fortunately, calls for increased gaming — both on Cherokee lands and across the state for special events — were not heeded by Tar Heel lawmakers this session.
“Talk about high stakes, our state was truly at risk as these issues came up during such a hectic time during the last week of session when hundreds of bills were being rushed through,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Our prayers that lawmakers would put the brakes on these proposals were answered.”
Although no specific legislation was ever introduced dealing with the state’s compact with the Eastern Band of Cherokee, there was plenty of talk about allowing the tribe to expand their gambling to include Las Vegas style “live dealer” games such as roulette, black jack, craps, etc. That effort, however, was turned back as a strong Bi-partisan group of lawmakers worked to garner enough votes to defeat the measure, discouraging potential sponsors from actually advancing the proposal.
During the previous week, lawmakers on the Senate Committee on Rules took a look at allowing so-called “simulated gaming” at charity events. Senate Bill 621, sponsored by Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson), would have allowed restaurants and hotels that have ABC permits to host invitation-only gambling events in private rooms so long as they were sponsored by a person or organization who would provide chips or markers and corresponding prizes that could be worth up to $2,500 each, not to exceed $10,000 per event. Host sites could have up to 12 such events per year as long as they applied for permits in advance.
Sen. Bingham said hotels and motels have been hosting these so-called “Las Vegas night” events, mainly for charitable organizations, and the bill was needed to establish parameters, to give the ABC Commission authority to issue permits and to give Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE) a uniform set of rules that would apply.
But Bill Brooks, executive director of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, told lawmakers the bill was simply “training wheels” for full-fledged gambling as it would have made equipment such as roulette wheels legal and cloud the issue as to what is gambling and what is not.
“If you’re not going to have casino gambling in North Carolina, why allow casino gambling to go on just because it is for a non-profit?” he argued. Brooks also said that ALE doesn’t have adequate staff to police the events.
Rev. Creech told the committee that approving this type of gambling, even in a limited format involving chips rather than cash, would have numerous negative effects, not the least of which could include opening the door for Las Vegas style games on the Cherokee reservation as a result of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). That federal legislation requires states to negotiate compacts with tribes to allow whatever gaming has already been approved for anyone in the state for any purpose.
“Gambling in any form is bad social policy, bad economic policy and bad government policy. … There is nothing good about this bill,” said the Rev. Creech as he reminded Senators that the General Assembly had repeatedly and resoundingly said “No” to video poker and sweepstakes gambling because of their predatory nature.
“Do we believe that if the forms of gambling in this legislation were to become popular setting the stage for legalization somewhere down the road, do we somehow believe that these games will be less predatory?” he challenged. “… The glitz and glamour of Las Vegas was not built on the backs of winners but on the backs of losers and suckers playing a fool’s game.”
After hearing the Christian Action League’s position on the issue and several serious concerns expressed by fellow lawmakers, Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe), chairman of the committee, adjourned the meeting with no further discussion.
“Although I don’t agree specifically with some of the things Rev. Creech said, I don’t feel like debating him today,” he said.
Meanwhile, informal discussions among lawmakers last week included whether the Legislature should support expanded Las Vegas style games on tribal lands in Western North Carolina, where the Eastern Band of Cherokees has lured gamblers to Harrah’s Casino since 1997 under a 1994 compact that was expanded in 2000 and again in 2002.
“It was our understanding that the Governor wants this and there were Republicans and Democrats, who were pushing it as a ‘jobs bill,'” said the Rev. Creech. “They suggested that allowing live dealers for games such as Black Jack, Roulette, Craps, etc., would create as many as 400 or more opportunities of employment.”
But he pointed out in an alert on the CAL Web site that those who support the idea were overlooking the huge social consequences to the Cherokees and the rest of the state.
Table games with live dealers would draw more high stakes gamblers to Cherokee, which already offer a wide range of electronic gambling and has recently added poker rooms in anticipation of expanded games. But with high rollers come more problem and pathological gamblers as well as more crime.
“Not only do pathological gamblers in particular often resort to crime to fund their compulsions, out-of-town customers carrying large sums of cash also become, themselves, easy targets for crime,” the Rev. Creech said. “Plus, more games mean more money going into the casino and less spent at area legitimate businesses that actually produce products and provide stable jobs.”
Indian Casino revenues are not subject to corporate taxation, so the state loses when the Casino takes in money that consumers would likely have spent on taxable consumer goods.
Creech said the tribe’s current status — nearly a billion dollars in debt — shows that they need a more diverse economy and can’t just depend on gambling. According to a May article in the Smoky Mountain News, 87 percent of the tribe’s income is generated by Harrah’s Casino.
“In our alert, we urged CAL supporters to contact their lawmakers and ask them not to support expanded gambling on the Cherokee reservation,” the Rev. Creech said. He expressed appreciation to the American Family Association (AFA) who forwarded the alert to its e-mail base as well. “I think anytime lawmakers are hearing from their constituents on a matter, they usually take serious notice. I think the people on our list who were contacting their lawmakers and the people on AFA’s North Carolina email list certainly helped keep the Cherokee proposal at bay.
“We are very thankful these ideas did not make it onto the House or Senate floor this session, and we’ll keep a vigilant watch for any bills of this nature that might pop up in future sessions of the General Assembly, so stay tuned,” Rev. Creech added.