By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — When the Legislature reconvenes in November, it’s a safe bet that plans to expand Cherokee gambling will be on the table and an even safer bet that North Carolinians will be the losers if such an expansion is allowed.
“We’ve heard that unfortunately there may already be enough votes in the Senate to pave the way for Las Vegas-style table games at Harrah’s,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “As the details of the proposed expansion come out, it seems clear that the gambling industry will be the only winners in this kind of deal.”
Media outlets have reported that the Governor’s office and the tribe have agreed on several points for a new 30-year compact including the addition of live dealers for card games, the elimination of skill and dexterity requirements, and the introduction of unlimited Class III games on the tribe’s federal trust land. Apparently the only sticking point is exactly how revenue will be shared. The Governor’s office wants the state to get a percentage of profits from all of the gaming, not just the new games that an expansion would allow. The funds would be earmarked for education.
“Where have we heard that before? Don’t be fooled, folks, this isn’t about education any more than the North Carolina Lottery is,” Dr. Creech said. “While they are quibbling over who gets what revenue, we’re wondering who is going to step up and take responsibility for the social costs of increased gambling?”
The North Carolina Family Policy Council has been studying the legal and social implications of “Bringing Las Vegas to North Carolina” in a report by the same name and has much to say about the proposal.
“Casinos may provide some monetary benefits for the Indian tribes who run them, but the additional burdens casinos create must also be weighed before any state considers expanding gambling within its territory,” reads the NCFPC article by Kyle Jensen. The report also warns that if the State were to allow for the Cherokee to offer table games and live dealers, “it is possible that a suit could then be brought to allow these games throughout the rest of the State.”
In fact the legal ramifications for expanding gambling are complex to say the least.
The Eastern Band of Cherokees began offering games of chance on tribal lands via a 1994 compact signed by Gov. Jim Hunt under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Harrah’s opened its casino in 1997 and within three years, the compact had already been broadened — raffle prize limits were raised to $50,000 with unlimited prizes on some games; square footage restrictions were eliminated; the compact term went from seven to 30 years; and gamblers were no longer restricted to cash but began getting advances on their credit cards. In 2002, electronic raffle and bingo games were approved.
Even as Harrah’s is now moving ahead with a $633 million expansion project featuring multiple hotel towers, a 3,000-seat event center and a doubling of the gaming floor, legal questions regarding how IGRA provisions fit with state law abound both here and across the nation.
For example, a lawsuit filed by the New Vemco Music Company argues that the governor doesn’t have the authority to compact with a tribe without legislative approval and therefore is violating the separation of powers clause of the State Constitution. Although the N.C. Legislature in 2001 voted to delegate that power to the governor, their vote is also questionable as many courts have ruled that the power to compact is a legislative power and can’t be handed over. The compact could also be challenged under the exclusive emoluments and equal protection clauses of the N.C. Constitution, though it is unclear how the cases would be interpreted in light of the federally instituted IGRA.
“Just as gamblers shouldn’t allow themselves to get caught up in the flashing lights and ringing bells of the casino and wind up betting more than they can afford, lawmakers have to look beyond the promises of jobs and revenue to the potential long term results of any decision to expand the games,” Dr. Creech said. “We can’t presume that these games will always be contained on tribal lands when the legal landscape is shifting at best.”
According to the Smoky Mountain News, annual casino profits flowing to the tribe totaled around $225 million the past couple of years. The casino, which employs roughly 2,000, is promising another several hundred jobs if Las Vegas style games are allowed.
However, Dr. Creech pointed out that the jobs would come at too high a price when social costs are tallied.
Studies show that within a three-to five-year period from the opening of a casino, crime rates will inevitably be higher in those counties with casinos. (Grinols, Earl L. and David B. Mustard. “Casinos, Crime and Community Costs.” April 2005) Research also revealed that the presence of casinos increases rates of burglary, larceny, auto theft, robbery, aggravated assault and rape.
Table games with live dealers would admittedly draw more high stakes gamblers to Cherokee. 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,” Dr. Creech said. “Plus, more games means more money going into the casino and less spent at area legitimate businesses that actually produce products and provide stable jobs.”
Earlier this year, Nevada earned an F in manufacturing from Indiana’s Ball State University, a fact that wouldn’t surprise William Thompson, who authored a 2000 study regarding a casino’s effects on the local economy. He predicted a planned California casino would have a “negative impact on the ability of the local communities to recruit new high tech businesses and their higher paying jobs.”
Thompson took a close look at Las Vegas and realized that despite the University of Nevada-Las Vegas’ very good engineering school, industries were not attracted and students were moving elsewhere after graduation.
“The only variable that can and does seem to make a difference is the image of the community, an image that is directly attached to the fact that the gambling industry dominates life — and values — in the community,” Thompson wrote.
“It that Las Vegas image what we want here in North Carolina?” Creech asked. “Absolutely not.”
Already, according to a May article in the Smoky Mountain News, 87 percent of the Cherokee tribe’s income is generated by Harrah’s. An expansion of the gambling there would only increase the region’s dependence on gambling for its economic development.
“We’ve always said hitching the state’s wagon to Harrah’s business plan via a deal for a share of casino profits would put the state in the worst position possible,” said Dr. Creech. “North Carolina would be pressured to promote and increase gambling as a revenue stream while at the same time needing to minimize gambling’s harms on Tar Heel citizens. It simply doesn’t make sense.”
The CAL urges Christians across the state to contact their lawmakers and ask them not to support any compact to expand Cherokee gambling.