Monday, August 14, 2023

When It Comes To Commercial Gambling in NC, It's Easy To Follow the Money


A kind of emotional dam broke back in the middle of July after a holding company connected to a casino developer petitioned the Rockingham County Commish to rezone nearly 200 acres in the southwestern corner of the county for a gambling casino. Things got real as local residents focused on what that would mean, and even though it's the most powerful man in Rockingham who wants this casino, citizen protest may be growing. 

It had already come out publicly that a bill to legalize commercial gambling in North Carolina had been written in secret and was being quietly circulated in Raleigh. Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham and is the Biggus Dickus of the NC Senate, had spoken glowingly for the economic prospects that would follow legalizing gambling, not only in Rockingham but in other rural counties to the tune of a total of four new proposed casinos.

But the thing about the Rockingham commish -- Berger's own son sits on that board and looks like a rubberstamp, and it's going to take concerted community organizing to overcome Bergerpower. It may be happening. Recently, gubernatorial candidate Mark Walker, who lives in Guilford Co., hosted a protest rally and some 500 people showed up. Beginning of a movement against Berger?

Travis Fain gathered up for WRAL other examples of rising pushback in Rockingham. A resident near the proposed site told the Rockingham planning board, “I think it’s supposed to be hush-hush what they’re putting in there, We don’t want it.” 

The parent casino company, Cordish of Baltimore, seems to have spun off a holding company subsidiary, NC Development, which lists its address with the NC Secretary of State as the same address for Cordish in Baltimore. NC Development is the paperwork force behind rezoning that Rockingham 192 acres. NC Development filed just last June with the Secretary of State as a limited liability company, with one Joseph Weinberg listed as president. Weinberg also happens to be head of the casino division at Cordish (which brags that it has 10 main lines of business) and a Cordish senior partner. Those guys have stonewalled reporter Fain, but he knows they've hired different powerful people as lobbyists, and the influence campaign reaches high into both Republican and Democratic aeries. The company registered Tom Fetzer, who is a former Raleigh mayor and former chairman of the North Carolina Republican Party; and his sister Susan Fetzer Vick; and Zachary Dean Almond;  and L.T. McCrimmon, who used to work in the Cooper admin; and Tony Copeland, who is Cooper’s former secretary of commerce; and Tracy Kimbrell, who was Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger’s general counsel at the statehouse a decade ago.

The power players stand to make money off legalized gambling, and it all seems based on "pay to play." In other words, fundamentally corrupt. Am I the only one who watched all four seasons of Ozark?

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