By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
CHEROKEE — Full-fledged, Las Vegas-style gambling came to North Carolina this month, at first just for a select group of high rollers on Aug. 15 and then, with an official opening event at Harrah’s Casino Tuesday where lawmakers and North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue heralded the arrival of table games and the legalization of any and all Class III gambling on native America lands in western North Carolina.
“I’d say our state leaders who supported this expansion are the highest of high rollers, gambling with the health and welfare of North Carolina citizens,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Yes, jobs are being added, but at what expense to individuals and to society at large as we deal with the fallout? Even hundreds of jobs are not worth the creation of thousands of addicts.”
As the ceremonial hand of blackjack was dealt to Eastern Band of Cherokees Principal Chief Michell Hicks and Vice Chief Larry Blythe, Perdue had nothing but praise for what she called an “economic development engine” that would “bring magic to the people of western North Carolina.”
She even hinted that the tribe’s push for gaming — which Harrah’s says led to the addition of some 500 jobs — is helping to set the state’s agenda.
“I’ve watched it (the tribe) move and change and figure out a different way to make a priority list for all of your people and for the western counties as well as for the whole state of North Carolina,” she told the Cherokee One Feather newspaper.
Perdue and the Cherokees agreed in June on a new 30-year compact that now allows the tribe’s casino to offer everything from craps, roulette and blackjack to live-dealer poker and traditional slot machines. It also clears the way for the tribe to open two more casinos. In exchange, the state will get 4 percent of receipts from the new table games for the next five years, a percentage that will gradually increase to 8 percent over two decades. The funds are earmarked for education.
Despite significant resistance from both sides of the aisle, the Legislature approved the expansion plan, modifying the state’s gambling laws during the short session, and the U.S. Department of Interior gave its stamp of approval Aug. 3. Blackjack, craps and roulette are already up and running and visitors to Harrah’s will be able to spend their cash at up to 100 traditional table games by November.
“Tragically, the focus is on how many games, how many jobs and how many new gamblers can be enticed to Cherokee. No one wants to talk about how many lives are ruined or how many families destroyed when gambling becomes an addiction,” said Dr. Creech. “And it isn’t just the gamblers that foot the bill, it’s all of us.”
According to a 2009 report compiled by the National Council on Problem Gambling, more than 142,000 adults in North Carolina are problem gamblers; 71,000 are pathological gamblers. Three years ago, the social costs of gambling addiction was estimated at nearly $187 million.
“It is a sad day when the Governor of North Carolina is touting the expansion of addictive and harmful gambling as helpful to the citizens of this state,” said Bill Brooks, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council in a special report on his organization’s web site. “The negative social and economic costs of the increased addiction, crime, financial ruin, and broken families that are all well-documented results of Class III casino gambling are nothing to be celebrated.”