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The Dangerous Precedent of the Catawba Casino Bill

The following op-ed by former Speaker Pro Tempore of the North Carolina House of Representatives, Paul “Skip” Stam, appeared in the Charlotte Observer last week.

Days ago, a congressional committee moved H.R.1619, a bill that would grant Catawba Indian Nation a controversial casino in North Carolina. The Catawba’s reservation is located in South Carolina; however, since the Palmetto State’s restrictive gaming laws prevent them from conducting gaming at home, they are now attempting to build a casino across state lines. If H.R.1619 passes, it will mark the first off-reservation casino granted by Congress.

The bill attempts to short-circuit an ongoing court battle that would determine the legality of the controversial Cleveland County project. As an attorney, former elected representative in North Carolina, and long time consumer advocate, turning this legal process into a political one concerns me for many reasons.

The legislation flies in the face of the people’s will. The North Carolina legislature has already made strides to ban video poker parlors because of residents’ complaints that their presence in the state increases crime, stimulates addictive behavior, tears apart families, and fuels poverty. This off-reservation casino would be full of video poker machines.

Over 1,000 citizens signed a full-page ad in protest while county officials passed resolutions opposing it. When I served as Speaker Pro Tem of the North Carolina House of Representatives, I led a petition that over 100 members signed opposing this casino’s construction in our state. H.R.1619 circumvents the people’s will while skirting the judicial process.

A federal appeals court is currently reviewing whether the Department of Interior illegally approved the building of this off-reservation casino in North Carolina. A Federal Court judge labeled this battle a “close call” and the Interior Department just a few years ago said it couldn’t grant the tribe the casino land. There is certainly reason for hope that the appeals court will deny the application. H.R.1619 will use the power of the legislative branch to muscle this casino into North Carolina no matter what the courts rule or the people want.

There is a reason Congress has never approved an off-reservation casino before. It’s not the job of politicians in Washington, D.C. to take the right to make laws applicable to its land away from North Carolina and hand this power over to predatory out-of-state interests. Members of Congress don’t have the knowledge, background, or contextual evidence to decide what’s fair or in line with North Carolina law and historic realities.

Not only would the legislation greenlight this casino in North Carolina without any respect for the legal process, but if passed, it could also embolden other casino developers to latch onto the precedent and short-circuit normal procedures to do the same. Casinos could start sprouting up throughout the country without any regard to what the state and local government, courts, and professional analysts say. Is this really a Pandora’s Box that Congress wants to open?

Rep. Virginia Foxx’s district is where the casino will be located should the Catawba Nation get its way. She needs to lead the charge in telling the rest of Congress this legislation is short-sighted and misguided. North Carolina citizens deserve far more careful deliberation on this issue than a rushed attempt to shut down examination of the facts and law surrounding it.

Read NC Family’s recent Action Alert on the Catawba Casino


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