Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Citizen Uprising Against Berger's New Gambling Casinos


It just got exposed at the end of July that NC Senate boss Phil Berger (and other legislators) had received generous contributions from gambling casino developers who want four new casinos in North Carolina. No friggin' surprize that a bill to legalize them has been drafted and is moving in the General Assembly, with Senate boss Berger one of its biggest supporters. Also no friggin' surprise that one of those new casinos is planned for Berger's home county of Rockingham, and the designated site is up for a rezoning with the Rockingham County Commish on August 21. One of Berger's other sons sits on the commish.

What Phil wants, Phil gets.

But there appears to be an uprising of citizens united against the casino. Recently, the town council of Stokesdale, which sits just across the county line in Guilford but is only about six miles from the proposed 192-acre casino, passed a resolution against the project at its August 10th meeting. The resolution cites Earl Grinols and David Mustard’s “Casinos, Crime, and Community Costs,”which presents bushels of hard numbers, evidence that an average county of a population of 100,000 people can expect significant increases in major crimes where casino and gaming operations are present. Candidate for governor Mark Walker showed up to speak against the Casino, and the chair of the town council said that such a major change in state law had been moving behind closed doors and "outside of the public eye," a fact he found extraordinary and disturbing.

The little town of Summerfield, also close by in Guilford, also pushed back against what Berger wants, passing a resolution in favor of Rockingham County residents having the right to vote on the issue in a referendum. The commish in Rockingham could allow that, but they won't. Because of Berger family muscle.

For the past month, Summerfield residents have organized and communicated closely with Rockingham residents about what a casino could mean for the town of about 11,000, roughly 8.5 miles north of the 192-acre plot of land that a major national casino developer seeks to build upon.

Meanwhile, in Madison, NC, the closest town in actual Rockingham County, the town council has been lobbied by a local cheerleader for casinos but has otherwise taken no action. The man who spoke up for casinos is "a lifelong Madison resident with five homes and 55 acres of land near the US 220 plot at issue." His self-described expertise (not making this up) came directly from business trips at casino hotels in Reno, Las Vegas, and Atlantic City. He poo-poohed the fear of organized prostitution, claiming that prostitution "is thriving here already because of young women hooked on crack, meth and heroin....’’ The empathy of the business traveler!

Sam Page

So far no Rockingham municipality has passed any resolution implying doubt or criticism of Berger's pet project. Are they afraid to?

Here's what may blow up more public opposition. Longtime Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page (some 25 years on the job) attended the Summerfield Town Council meeting that passed the resolution, "spoke loudly and clearly" --- "in no uncertain terms" -- about the dangers of legalized gambling in a mainly rural county like Rockingham. "Page said that given the 'slippery slope' of gambling that the state is already on – the Education Lottery, a move toward legalizing sports betting and now the potential proliferation of casinos – he wonders what the state will look like in the future."

He attended the Summerfield town council meeting to lend his support to the call for a referendum -- let the people decide if they want this kind of economic development. Defy Phil Berger, probably no small thing for this fellow Republican sheriff. 

Sam Page, just incidentally, announced back in May that he will be running for lieutenant governor in the 2024 Republican primary, and I think he found an issue that will resonate in other rural counties.

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