If you have read the 2023 Legislative Session Summary article in this edition of Family North Carolina magazine, you will recognize that this has been an epic year for the N.C. Family Policy Council and for the people of North Carolina. From the passage of historic pro-life legislation, to securing parental rights, to protecting the health and welfare of children, to expanding school choice in North Carolina, there was seemingly no end to the positive advancements that were put into law this session. We thank God for the will of our state lawmakers to enact positive change and for the engagement of people across our state who helped to advance policy initiatives that are consistent with Godly principles and in the best interest of our fellow citizens and our families.
One of the most hard-fought battles of the session was not an effort to advance positive change, however, but to stop the spread of an inherent evil—a massive expansion of predatory gambling in North Carolina. Right on the heels of the state legislature approving sports gambling and parimutuel wagering on horse racing in June 2023, legislative leaders went “all in” on a bid to legalize four massive commercial gambling casino developments and tens of thousands of video lottery terminals (i.e. “VLTs” or video poker machines) across the state.
Reports indicate the gambling industry hired an unprecedented 70-plus paid lobbyists, and that gambling executives donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the political campaigns of certain well-positioned state lawmakers during the first six months of 2023. Needless to say, the stakes were incredibly high, and the political pressure being applied on state lawmakers was as intense as we have seen it in over 30 years of work in North Carolina’s policy and political arenas!
In one plan, supporters would have wrapped casinos and VLTs into the $30 billion state budget in order to provide “political cover” and create even more pressure on lawmakers, especially Republicans, to vote in favor of it. The assumption was that even if they personally opposed gambling, they would be forced to back the measure, because politically, they “can’t afford to not vote for the budget.”
Locally, especially in Rockingham and Nash counties, where two massive casinos were proposed to be located, it came to light that local government officials and gambling developers had been working behind the scenes for months to “grease the skids,” so that as soon as authorizing legislation was passed, the land would be secured, permits would be fast-tracked, and development would commence. After all, the sole function of gambling casinos is to separate citizens from their hard-earned dollars, so the sooner the casinos could be up and running, the more profits they could generate.
Tragically, the bulk of this gambling money comes from individuals who are victimized by wagering and who suffer from pathological or problem gambling issues. In fact, history shows the more forms of gambling that are legalized, the more citizens are going to gamble. And decades of research clearly shows that gambling addiction manifests itself in increases in theft, embezzlement, job loss, personal bankruptcy, substance abuse, domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, and even suicide. These are the human costs of predatory gambling, and this is why so many who understand the reality of gambling oppose it so vehemently.
Fortunately, by God’s grace and what can only be described as a miracle, the casino and VLT effort turned out to be a bust. In the end, citizens from across the state (especially in Rockingham and Nash counties) joined together with faithful Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the State House and State Senate, along with organizations like NC Family, to stand against this misguided proposal. Ultimately, it was jettisoned from the budget and set aside… at least for now.
As a preview to what we are likely see when the General Assembly reconvenes for the “Short” Legislative Session next April, the Raleigh News & Observer recently published an article entitled, “Sin session? Gambling, marijuana and alcohol likely to resurface in NC legislature.”
We know the gambling effort is going to return. Remember, the stakes are incredibly high and the money is immense!
With that in mind, we can take great encouragement from our experience this year—when citizens get involved, when lawmakers stand by their convictions, and when God hears the cry of His people and intervenes on their behalf, great things can happen and evil can be thwarted!
John L. Rustin is President of the North Carolina Family Policy Council