By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — Almost faster than you can say “Deal me in,” the state Senate has approved a bill that would drastically increase gambling on Cherokee lands in western North Carolina, adding Las Vegas style gaming in place of the casino’s currently less additive forms of video based games and up to four more casino sites on tribal property west of I-26.
Under the bill, which sped through two committees and onto the Senate floor between noon and 6 p.m. Wednesday where it passed 33-14, a 30-year agreement negotiated between Governor Bev Perdue’s office and the Eastern Band of Cherokee would send 4 to 8 percent of live table card game profits (initially estimated at some $2 million a year) to public schools and could result in 400 new jobs.
But the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, pointed out to members of the Senate Appropriations Committee a major flaw in the plan.
“When government seeks to profit from gambling, it becomes the house, which means it has a vested interest against its own people,” he said. “For government to win, citizens must lose. Therefore, we bet against ourselves.”
He reminded lawmakers that Harrah’s casinos make some 90 percent of their gambling profits from 10 percent of the gamblers addicted to the forms of gaming they offer. Even more egregious than profiting from citizens’ addictions is attaching the proceeds to education, Dr. Creech said.
“I draw your attention to something Bill Friday, former president of the UNC system, once said: ‘I just don’t think the state should set the example to its young people of saying we’ve got to resort to gambling to finance your education … I don’t think it is a good economic policy for the deprived citizen and I don’t think in the end it proves itself to be what it’s alleged to be.'”
But proponents of the bill said the reservation’s gambling is critical to the Western North Carolina economy and estimated 80 percent of those who have casino-based jobs are non-tribal members. They admitted they couldn’t guarantee that profits would always be earmarked for schools, since future legislatures could change how the money is allocated.
Senator Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe), one of three primary sponsors along with Senators Martin Nesbitt (D-Buncombe) and Jim Davis (R-Cherokee), explained the bill during Senate debate, saying it had been nearly a decade in the making as the tribe and the state had faced ups and downs in negotiations.
“I’m not going to sit here and tell you that this is going to cure all the ills in the west or that it is going to bring more problems; I don’t think it will,” Apodaca said. “… I do think it will be a vital advantage and help economically.”
The bill now heads to the House, where the pace of its progress is expected to slow as representatives take a closer look at the issue.
“I understand that every time you put education on something it has that attractiveness,” Rep. Ray Rapp (D-Madison) told the media Wednesday, but added, “The amount of money that would be raised for education … would provide about two No. 2 pencils for each student in the state.”
Gambling enthusiasts insist that the expansion is not about state revenue, but about jobs for an area of the state that has battled high unemployment and about helping the Cherokees.
“This is about creating resources to benefit current and future generations” Principal Chief Michell Hicks told reporters this past week.
But the Rev. Creech said the argument lacks logic because gambling simply doesn’t “create resources.”
“It is not like a manufacturing plant that offers products that can be sold and used to generate income. The only thing gambling does is syphon money away from other economies, while producing gambling addicts and more families in need of social services, which drives up taxes for everyone. Looking to expand gambling in western North Carolina as a boon to its economy is truly building a’ house of cards’ whether dealt by a machine or a person. North Carolina legislators in the House need to stop this misguided bill.”
Urgent Christian Action Alert: Contact your Representative in the North Carolina House and urge he/she not to approve S 582: Authorize Indian Gaming/Revenue
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