By Hunter Hines
Christian Action League
March 29, 2019
RALEIGH – Legislation for advancing the sale of mixed beverages (liquor-by-the-drink), sports wagering, and gaming nights for non-profits were considered by state lawmakers this week.
“In my nearly 20 years with the Christian Action League, I’ve never seen anything quite like it,” said Rev Mark Creech, executive director. “We are experiencing what seems like an avalanche of alcohol and gambling bills this year. And these initiatives are driven by some of our Republican friends. It’s not only harder but more disappointing when you have to fight the proposals of your friends.”
Both the Senate Commerce and Rules Committees considered and passed, SB 124 – Small Town Mixed Beverage Election Reqs. The legislation, championed by Sen. John Alexander (R-Franklin), proposes to carve out a section within the state that would allow mixed beverage elections where it is not currently permitted. The area defined in the bill is a town or place that:
- Has 200 registered voters;
- Is a total area of less than one square mile;
- Operates an ABC store; and
- Is located in a county that has at least three cities which have approved the sale of mixed beverages.
Rev. Creech argued in opposition to the bill, saying that over the years he had witnessed the threshold requirement to hold an alcohol election drop from 5000 registered voters to 500. It is currently at 300, he said, and SB 124 would lower it even further, placing it at 200. “What does a threshold even mean anymore?” he passionately asked. He argued the current process of lawmakers filing and passing bills that lower the threshold whenever someone wants to sell booze in their district had made thresholds meaningless when they were supposed to serve “an important purpose.”
“Thresholds are supposed to serve in limiting alcohol outlet density, which considerable research shows is necessary for curbing dangerous consumption rates and thereby preserving public health and safety,” said Creech.
He pointed out that too often, as it is in the case of SB 124, proponents argue such legislation is meant to bring in a fine dining establishment.
But Creech protested that that argument omitted critical information about the demographics of areas unable to meet a threshold as low as 300 people. He said:
“Standards for being defined as a restaurant are relatively low in our state. A proprietor needs just a grill with 36 seats to meet the criteria, and the alcohol to food ratio is only 70/30. Are we not to think that there is greater potential in smaller communities for seedy places than really nice restaurants – places that are often quite problematic for law enforcement, increasing the strain on them. These are the scenarios thresholds are supposed to be high enough to address. Thresholds should make it a little more cumbersome to approve alcohol sales in places where such sales work against the community unless it has reached a certain standard of growth.”
Creech also added the Christian Action League believes SB 124 is unconstitutional because it can only be applied very narrowly.
Article II, Section 24 and Article XIV, Section 3 of the state constitution forbids the General Assembly from enacting laws that regulate local trade. Alcohol is considered a trade in North Carolina. The proposed legislation appears to regulate trade in a manner that applies to one locale and cannot actually be applied statewide.
Similar laws have been voided by the Superior Court of Wake County with respect to Lumberton, Reaves v. N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, and Halifax, Frazier v. N.C. Alcohol Beverage Control Commission. Another similar law was declared unconstitutional and voided by the Superior Court of Swain County in Swain County v. N.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.
Alexander argued that he believed his bill did have a statewide application. Some members of the Rules Committee, however, were concerned the matter was unclear and that the legislation, if passed, might negatively impact their districts.
The Rules Committee concluded its deliberations with a request directed to legislative staff to research and determine specifics about what areas would specifically be affected by SB 124.
The bill is calendared to be voted on by the full Senate on Tuesday.
On the same day, as well as in the same committee, that SB 124 was taken up, SB 154 – Authorize Sports Wagering on Tribal Lands, was also considered.
Last year, the United States Supreme Court knocked down a 1992 federal law that banned placing bets on the outcome of professional and collegiate sports events. That ruling opened the door for states to make sports wagering legal.
Sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis (R-Cherokee), the legislation would add sports wagering to the list of Class III forms of gambling permitted on the Cherokee reservation. The Cherokee currently have live table games with dealers, gaming machines, raffles, bingo, and video games at their Casinos in Western North Carolina.
Stop Predatory Gambling, a national organization based in Washington, D.C., which seeks to educate and engage the public in opposition to gambling, notes that Casinos “are a form of financial fraud and exploitation that causes life-changing financial losses for millions of citizens.”
During the hearing on the bill, John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, told lawmakers the measure might seem rather innocuous to them because the sports wagering would be contained on the reservation. But he added that “it is likely to have far-reaching implications for our state and beyond.”
“Decades of research on gambling consistently shows very high correlations between gambling addiction and increases in crime, theft, embezzlement, personal bankruptcy, domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, and even suicide,” said Rustin. He further argued that “[s]ports gambling is particularly corruptive and addicting, and authorizing it…at the Cherokee casinos would provide even more ways to gamble, and some who are not currently attracted to the casinos will be enticed to go to gamble on sporting events”… and “inevitably result in higher incidents of the problem and pathological gambling among citizens in North Carolina and surrounding states.”
The Senate Commerce Committee did not vote on SB 154. The legislation has not been calendared for a vote at this time.
Allow Gaming Nights
HB 130 – Allow Game Nights passed its 3rd reading in the North Carolina House, Wednesday, by a whopping 93-17 margin. Ironically, HB 130 was being voted on in the House at the very same hour Rev. Creech was addressing SB 124, with John Rustin at his side addressing SB 154 in the Senate Commerce Committee Meeting.
HB 130 now moves over to the Senate for consideration.
Creech said concerning the week, “It’s abundantly clear what has happened to us morally. True morality is constant, absolute, and transcends the eras. Today we’ve redefined the moral code to suit our vices, instead of repenting of our vices to harmonize with God’s moral code.”
To read more about the Game Nights bill, read: Gaming Nights Bill Moves Forward. ‘Like Candy Cigarettes,’ says Creech
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