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Speculation on more casinos linked to Senate president’s home county

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(The Center Square) – A rezoning application in the home county of the North Carolina Senate president is fueling speculation a new casino could be in the works.

Legislative leaders have acknowledged additional gambling revenues are factoring into budget negotiations. Republican Senate President Phil Berger is from Eden, in the northern part of Rockingham County just south of the Virginia state line where NC Development Holdings last month requested to change a 192-acre tract on U.S. 220 to commercial use.

The county Planning Board recently voted 5-2 to recommend denying the change. The county’s five-member Board of Commissioners – all are Republicans, and Berger’s son Kevin is chairman – will ultimately decide. They are scheduled to review the request on Aug. 21.

NC Development Holdings listed the same address as The Cordish Companies, a Baltimore-based developer, in its registration with the Office of the Secretary of State. Cordish senior partner and head of casino development Joseph Weinberg is named as NC Development’s “authorized representative.”

Cordish and NC Development officials have not publicly discussed any plans.

The Rockingham County site is one of three identified in an analysis by Spectrum Gaming conducted on behalf of the conservative Greater Carolina this spring that found three resort-type casinos could generate as many as 3,000 direct jobs per location, with $336 million in state gaming tax collections at a 20% rate. Other locations analyzed in the report include Anson and Nash counties.

The report suggests three approved casinos in Virginia will draw $259 million in gross gaming revenues from North Carolina residents once fully operational. A Caesars Virginia casino in Danville, 90 minutes or less from both the Triangle and Triad, opened in May and is reportedly already attracting North Carolinians.

Rockingham County is directly between the Triad and Danville, bordering Virginia. Only three tribal casinos operate in the state, all in the western side.

Republicans in the General Assembly have acknowledged that discussions on expanding gambling with casinos or video gaming terminals are factoring into ongoing budget negotiations and efforts to accelerate income tax cuts.

Berger is supportive of expanding gaming. He recently told the capital media odds are in favor of further gambling authorization in the current legislative session, noting the Danville casino is pulling money out of North Carolina.

House Republican leaders have not seen any proposal for casinos or video gambling from the Senate. Support in the lower chamber would likely hinge on the number of casinos proposed, whether local referendums would be required, and the state’s potential revenue, Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican budget negotiator, told the media last week.

Saine said he doesn’t expect votes on the budget until August.

Lawmakers in June legalized online and in-person sports wagering in North Carolina over the objections of legislators in both parties and religious leaders who predicted the move would lead to a surge in gambling addiction and associated problems including embezzlement, substance abuse and suicide.

The same opponents are expected to resist efforts to expand gambling further, while residents near the Rockingham County site have spoken out against any plans for a casino as well.

Numerous lobbyists with ties to Berger, Gov. Roy Cooper, and the North Carolina Republican Party are working with NC Development and Cordish to overcome that opposition.

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