Is North Carolina rolling snake eyes?

Published August 9, 2023

By Tom Campbell

I loved when the fair came to town. Rides, good food, exhibits, not to mention the “hoochie koochie” show. There were also the games of chance, where you paid a buck and got three chances to knock over three milk bottles with a softball, or hurl wooden rings onto bottle necks. Dad said they were called games of chance because there was little chance you would win the big stuffed animals on display. Besides, you don’t get something for nothing. Gambling was bad.
That was the prevailing opinion in our state in the 50s. Aside from a few years in the late 40s and early 50s, when there were dog racing tracks at Morehead City and on the Virginia border in Currituck County, people opposed gambling.
But attitudes change. When North Carolina was the only state on the east coast that didn’t offer a lottery and hundreds of cars a day were crossing our borders to the south and north to play chatter for starting a lottery in our state increased. Whenever the issue was raised the Reverend Coy Privette, head of the Christian Action League, would whip people into a frenzy about how the people’s morals were decaying and folks who couldn’t afford it would be risking their grocery money. Every time the issue came up, it was voted down.  
That changed in 2005. Proponents ranted about all the dollars North Carolina was losing, saying we could generate millions in revenues and give the people what they wanted if we instituted a lottery. Even so, had it not been for chicanery the lottery would never have passed. Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, who could count votes better than most, waited until two known opponents were absent one day and quickly put the bill to a vote. The result was a tie vote, giving then-Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue authority to cast the deciding vote. She voted yay, establishing our “education” lottery. The House concurred and the state was in the gambling business.
 Some people say they just play the lottery for fun, however gambling, like drinking, drugs, sex and other vices often becomes an addiction. Many purchase a ticket each time they go to the grocery or get gas. The American Gaming Association said last year that according to its survey, 42 percent of all adults in the country had gambled the previous year. Sales from state lotteries hit $108 billion, up 85 percent from 2009. North Carolina’s lottery generated $929 million last year, almost $10 billion since its inception. Peter Coy, a columnist for the NY Times wrote, “While people of all income levels gamble, the poor and working class lose a bigger share of their incomes. Gambling tends to entice the people who can least afford it.”
We had to know the “get rich quick” fever wouldn’t stop there. Gambling casinos, initially just on Indian reservations, started appearing like kudzu in other states. If you’ve ever been to Harrah’s in Cherokee, you know the excitement and dollars spent. Every full-bloodied Cherokee gets a reported $7,000 per year as his or her share from tribe profits.
But online gambling was a game changer. If you’ve got a smart phone or computer you can play slots, roulette, blackjack, dice or poker. Our lawmakers faced a conundrum. People were already gambling online; the question was how the state could harvest tax revenues from it. Lawmakers set up a special division of our Lottery Commission for sports betting in North Carolina.

Then came the announcement that a casino was opening in Danville, Virginia, just a stone’s throw across the border. A bill now being considered by our legislature would allow casinos in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counites, as well as a new casino in southeastern Carolina operated by the Lumbee tribe. Nash County wants to put an amendment in the bill to have a referendum on whether to have a casino. Maybe another amendment would distribute all the profits, on a pro-rata basis, to every taxpayer!
Will the legislative measure pass? We’re told it has the support of both the House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem, a positive sign. Hundreds of thousands in reported campaign contributions are sweetening the pot. It’s no gamble we will have casinos.
Judging by our lawmakers’ tax cut fever we are going to need the additional tax revenues.
And it won’t be long after casinos that we will be opening racetracks. Horses, dogs and parimutuel on-track and off is coming. There is at least some benefit to them, as an industry in breeding, training and boarding the animals will spring up and farmers will benefit from the demand for grains to feed them.
I reflect back to my youthful days in the 1950s and can’t help but think how much the morals of this state have changed. Each of us must judge if it is for better or worse.
Tom Campbell is a Hall of Fame North Carolina Broadcaster and columnist who has covered North Carolina public policy issues since 1965.  Contact him at