By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
March 22, 2019
RALEIGH – Wednesday, the House Finance Committee took-up HB 130 – Allow Game Nights, sponsored by Reps. Jamie Boles (R), Marvin Lucas (D), Jason Saine (R), and Elmer Floyd (D). The bill passed the committee and now moves to be considered by the House Rules Committee.
Current law states it is a criminal offense punishable as a Class 2 misdemeanor for operating a game of chance or playing a game of chance where money or anything of value is bet, excluding the North Carolina Lottery, Class III Tribal-State Gaming Compact, beach bingo games, bingo games by tax-exempt organizations, and raffles by tax-exempt organizations. Serving or consuming alcoholic beverages during a raffle, bingo game, or beach bingo game is illegal too. HB 130 would modify the law to authorize nonprofit organizations and some employers to operate “game nights” where games of chance are played, and prizes are awarded by raffle at facilities that sell alcoholic beverages. These “game nights” feature Las-Vegas style gambling and would be operated as fundraising events.
The proposed legislation has a long track record of having been introduced in some form as far back as 2001. State lawmakers always nixed the initiative until 2017. Shortly after that, Governor Roy Cooper (D) vetoed it, arguing he wasn’t opposed to legitimate nonprofits holding an occasional ‘game night’ to help donations to worthy causes. But he had concerns that the legislation as written might cause unintended consequences. By legitimizing charitable gambling, he said, it could open the door to the insidious video poker industry to infiltrate the state’s communities.
HB 130 is similar in its content as the legislation which passed in 2017 and was vetoed by Cooper. However, proponents of the measure have been willing to work with the Christian Action League, as well as other socially conservative organizations, to address their most serious concerns.
HB 130 is tighter and clearer in its prohibitions than the previous legislation. It definitively clarifies no cash prizes will be awarded by nonprofits or the Employee and Trade Associations that are allowed to participate. The gambling equipment, which includes games such as roulette, blackjack, poker, craps, simulated horse racing, and merchandise wheel of fortune, must be registered with the state’s Alcohol Law Enforcement. Game night events are also subject to unannounced inspections by Alcohol Law Enforcement. And the legislation makes it clear that slot machines, video gaming machines, and electronic sweepstakes machines are prohibited – the concerns Governor Cooper raised in his veto.
During the bill’s hearing on Wednesday, the following exchange took place between Rep. Mark Brody (R-Union) and Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore), champion of the measure, which shows the stated impetus for the legislation.
“I’m going to oppose the bill, not on the merits of it, but its mechanics. Because if it passes, despite my objection, this is probably the best way to go about doing it. But there is another area; a philosophical belief, that adding more gambling or teaching more people how to gamble is not in the best interest, in my opinion, of the state of North Carolina. This has been formulated in me. I grew up in Wisconsin. Wisconsin has eight gambling casinos on each one of the Indian reservations…horse track…and all this [gambling] goes on everywhere, including churches. And when I moved down here, it was a breath of fresh air to say, ‘I don’t want to have to deal with that. Thank you for not allowing that in North Carolina’…What I want to say is what you’ve done here, if it passes, this is the way it should go, but I would still like to see the whole concept defeated.”
“Rep. Brody, I agree with you. But we have a uniform court system in this state, and unfortunately, we have a lot of D.A.s that don’t enforce the law. That’s why we’re here. We should not be put in this position. It is against the law today, but this is happening up to 500 to 600 events a year across the state and its [ the law ] not being enforced. I would love for you to check with your D.A. to see if they enforce it. I know that in my county, Moore County, they do enforce it, and I have a resort there in Pinehurst, and we lose business there because the D.A.s in Mecklenburg and other parts of the state will not enforce the law. So we lose business because companies and non-profits come up here [ go where D.A.s don’t enforce the law ] and have fundraisers. This is why I put this before us. We should have uniformity across the state. It is against the law, and they are not enforcing it. So I’m trying to find a solution that the non-profits will not be operating against the law.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the legislation has momentum and unless a public outrage is expressed against the spread of the deleterious effects of gambling, it will likely pass the General Assembly a second time and, unlike before, may be signed by the Governor.
“I appreciate the spirit of the bill’s sponsors to work with us to make what, I believe, is a bad bill, a better one,” Creech said. “But the measure is still wrong. I realize it may seem relatively benign because it’s all in fun, no cash is passed, and potential for damage is supposedly at a minimum. It isn’t harmless though. This legislation is like giving candy cigarettes to children. You’re glorifying and endorsing something which steals, kills, and destroys lives. You’re whetting the public’s appetite for the real thing. Gambling is the devil’s delusion, and you don’t reward bad behavior by making it legal – that kind of reasoning is asinine. The state’s Attorney General should do his job by demanding the D.A.s enforce the law or face the consequences.”