By Peyton Majors
Christian Action League
August 25, 2023
Hundreds of opponents of a casino in Rockingham County packed a Board of Commissioners meeting Monday to urge a “no” vote on the rezoning of 192 acres of land, only to watch the board members unanimously vote “yes” as part of a plan to turn the property into a major gaming site.
Members of the crowd, though, said the issue is far from over. An estimated 700 opponents of the rezoning packed the main room and six overflow rooms, holding signs that read “Keep Our Community Great — No Casino” and urging commissioners to oppose the requested rezoning of 192 acres along U.S. Highway 220. One sign read, “How would Jesus vote?”
Republican leaders in the North Carolina House and Senate have said they are seriously considering including in a section of the upcoming budget to allow the construction of casinos in Rockingham, Anson and Nash Counties, three largely rural counties. Rockingham borders Virginia, while Anson borders South Carolina. Nash is located just east of Raleigh.
Some opponents urged the commissioners to vote “no” because the land rests next to a camp (Camp Carefree) for children with disabilities. Other opponents pointed to the historical ties between casinos and crime, addiction and destroyed lives.
After the commissioners voted “yes,” opponents filed out peacefully. A few could be heard discussing the need to vote the commissioners out of office.
The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, which opposes casinos, released a report in 2022 noting that the “most comprehensive study to date concludes that after three or four years, counties with casino gambling experience increases in rape, robbery, aggravated assault, burglary, larceny, auto theft, and human trafficking compared to counties without casinos.”
Casinos also help tear apart families, the report said.
“One study shows that those ‘with the lowest socioeconomic status in the poorest neighborhoods were at greatest risk for gambling problems,’ Researchers involved in this study speculate that “gambling may be viewed as one of the few opportunities for financial advancement, and perhaps provides the lure as a means for easily gaining money,” the report said. “… Gambling harms not only those directly involved in gambling but also harms the innocent, including members of the gambler’s family. Gambling creates financial problems and special tensions in the home. The children of gamblers suffer disproportionately when a gambling parent loses the money for such necessities as food, rent, clothing, and medicine.”
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said the debate in Rockingham County and other counties is far from over.
“Monday night’s decision by the Rockingham County Commissioners has left many Rockingham residents feeling disheartened and deeply concerned,” Creech said. “It is truly unfortunate when a legislative body chooses to overlook the collective voice of the electorate they serve. By zoning a large parcel of land for a possible casino despite overwhelming opposition, it appears as though the commissioners have taken a step away from representing the very citizens who entrusted them with their positions. For heaven’s sake, there was a record-breaking turnout of over 700 citizens, each expressing their resolute opposition to this rezoning. Surely that stands as a clear testament to the will of the people.”
Democracy, Creech said, thrives when the voices of those impacted are “not only heard but genuinely taken into account while making crucial decisions affecting their lives and community.”
“Unfortunately, I fear that the people of Rockingham County have two serious issues now before them: 1) the possibility of an unwanted casino in their community, and, 2) a rogue board of county commissioners.”
Creech urged Rockingham County residents not to lose hope.
“Their collective voice is still powerful,” Creech said. “They must continue to engage in open dialogue, raise awareness, and support advocacy efforts aimed at ensuring that their democratic institutions remain responsive to the needs and desires of their community. Together, they can work to insist on a more transparent and participatory decision-making process, where the will of the electorate is genuinely heard and respected.
“The Christian Action League is ready to help in any way we can.”