Column: Casino is a bad deal either in S.C. or N.C.
The Catawba Indians are rolling the dice that North Carolina – the state that has taken a decided turn to the right since last November – will be more receptive to their dreams of building a casino than South Carolina.
North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration has been meeting with Catawba senior officials about the tribe moving its proposed site from tribe-owned land in York County to just across the border in Cleveland County, N.C. While it is not a statewide initiative, the project would require a gambling compact, which McCrory currently could authorize without lawmakers’ approval. The plans would be for the casino to be a resort with a host of amenities, and, according to lawsuits filed against South Carolina, the tribe said it would be willing to pay up to $100 million annually to the host state.
This is not a concept without precedent. The two border states have a history of gambling revenue traveling across state lines, and it’s not hard to imagine officials at the new complex appealing to casino-starved South Carolinians. North Carolinians were a target for the garish, dimly lit gambling halls that popped up just inside the S.C. state lines years ago, as the amount of money fleeing the Tar Heel State likely helped change the opinions of longtime staunch gambling opponents in North Carolina. No need for those funds to travel across state lines when we can keep them here at home.
The benefits for the tribe are clear. The Catawbas opened one bingo hall in the 1990s in Rock Hill, which took in millions of dollars for several years before being swamped by competition. The tribe has its own pre-kindergarten program, environmental department, social services and senior and housing programs that need funding, and the unemployment rate amongst tribe members is believed to be at least double the state average.
There’s also the “anti-prohibition” argument, where some will say it’s easier to offer some legal release for certain urges than it is to keep track of all the illegal outlets. By allowing it, proponents will say, much of the grime that is associated with it will go away.
But for the Interstate 85 corridor near the state line, it is hard to imagine the casino without some more tawdry accompaniments nearby. The gambling may be legalized, but everything that comes with it is not. And that’s the case against it.
Some of McCrory’s fellow Republicans oppose the idea, saying there are better ways to bring jobs and money to the state, a sentiment that echoes the stance of their South Carolina brethren.
But it also highlights – again – the states’ pretenses when it comes to gambling. We note with great consternation that both states have state-sponsored education lotteries, but both are trying desperately to rid themselves of privately run sweepstakes halls. The hypocrisy is rife as South Carolina law allows offshore casinos, if local municipalities approve; and winks at events like law enforcement-sponsored poker runs. North Carolina does allow nonprofit- and church-sponsored raffles, something that is, incredulously, banned in South Carolina, but will be put before the voters for an overturn in 2014.
Not a lot of good can be said about gambling in any form, and while most of it is probably harmless for many people, a 2010 study showed the likelihood of being a pathological or problem gambler doubles for a person living within 50 miles of a casino, a positively ruinous outcome for some.
Our recommendation would be to do away with gambling, close the loopholes and shade in the gray areas. Odds are that will never happen, as the special interests backing both the video poker-type machines and the state-run lottery have deep pockets.
But a casino along a popular corridor shared by the two states is not an answer for a state looking for more revenue sources. The casino in Cherokee, N.C., which has operated since 1997 with few problems, is a destination stop. This proposal would make the casino essentially an exit along a heavily traveled interstate, which would surely increase the probability of illicit behavior in and around the resort.
We’re not social scientists, but we’d bet the impact from the casino would be felt in detention centers along the border before it makes any dent at the N.C. Statehouse.