It’s already September, and while the North Carolina General Assembly has yet to pass a budget and fully enact Medicaid expansion, they did legalize sports betting, which is something, I guess.
The new law allows for wagering on most sports — pro and college, including women’s sports, and also horse racing. Apparently we’re getting a new track.
This will probably be good for the state. Many of us are already wagering on college basketball, at least during March Madness, and judging by the number of people around here who can’t shut up about their fantasy football teams, there’s plenty of that going on as well.
And then there’s the new casino, fast-tracked for Rockingham County, which you should remember is the home district for NC Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. Never mind that hundreds of Rockingham residents actively do not want a casino nearby. The Rockingham County Commission has already voted — unanimously! — to rezone 192 acres for this proposed facility, and when that happens, seasoned political watchers know that the die is already cast.
It’s just a simple matter of changing state law to accommodate this first NC casino on non-native lands. And that’s no big deal — Sen. Berger can knock that out in one emergency session.
We’re not against casinos per se. They come with good and bad: tax revenue, land development, jobs and tourist action on the one hand, locals dumping their rent checks into slot machines on the other.
We don’t buy the argument that casinos bring a “bad element” to a community. The inside of a casino is one of the safest places in the world due to heightened security and cameras everywhere. And as anyone who’s ever been to one knows, the people who go to casinos are pretty mainstream: seniors, couples, small groups of men and women trading a little disposable income for free drinks on the floor.
But we should mark the ease with which these gaming bills have gained traction in the General Assembly, greased by heavy donations from the casino industry. Their ascension shows everyone just how simple real change can be if even just one or two powerful people want it to happen. Yet it never plays out the same way with legislation that actually does something for the public good. Like Medicare expansion, which Berger and Co. have tied to the budget, and then stonewalled its passage until they get what they want.
Surely the casino is on that list.
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