Worried About Video Poker, Cooper Vetoes Casino Night Bill

Jul 13, 2017

Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed legislation Wednesday that would make casino nights and some raffles already run by nonprofits officially legitimate, citing worries it could cause "unintended problems" by giving a foothold to otherwise illegal video poker.

The bill sought to fix a problem where charities already were offering games like roulette and blackjack as fundraisers, although betting anything of value in such situations is technically illegal. The legislation authorized permitting for such events by nonprofits four times a year at locations where alcohol sales are already permitted. There would be no playing with cash or cash prizes - only chips or tokens that get converted to raffle tickets.

Cooper said he's not opposed to legitimate nonprofits holding occasional game nights for worthy causes. But he believes the bill language could open the door for the video poker industry to "masquerade" as a charity.

State officials have used laws and court rulings to try to eradicate video poker and later sweepstakes parlors, where players spend money to reveal prizes through casino-style games. Critics say the games siphon money from addicted players who can't afford it.

"North Carolina law enforcement has fought for years against the for-profit video poker industry, and legitimizing charitable gambling in this way could give video poker a new way to infiltrate our communities," Cooper said in a statement. Unintended permits could be issued, he added, and "without tough criminal penalties enforcement would be difficult." Proposed penalties in the bill are misdemeanors.

Cooper's veto is his seventh since taking office. Republicans overrode the first five, while a sixth is pending.

The legislature plans to return in early August to consider additional overrides. While the bill passed both chambers in late June by veto-proof majorities, several senators who were absent for the final vote could swing a future vote.

Cooper also signed 13 more bills on his desk Wednesday, including one that directs driver's education curriculum and license handbooks to describe what people should expect a police officer to do during traffic stops and how to respond. A handful of other states also have passed similar requirements, which supporters hope would reduce violent or deadly encounters between motorists and officers.

The final casino-night bill also was expanded to let nonprofits hold raffles where alcohol can be lawfully served - which is currently not allowed. It also expanded the casino-night option to those organized by employers or trade associations with at least 25 workers or members that get permits and at locales were alcohol can be served. In a nod to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians casino in the mountains, the casino nights for nonprofits still wouldn't be authorized west of Interstate 26.

The socially conservative North Carolina Family Policy Council praised Cooper late Wednesday for the veto, saying the bill "would lead to a significant expansion of legalized gambling in our state" if enacted.

Although opposing the bill earlier, the council still had expressed hope previously on its website that with onerous provisions now removed from the final product could help regulate what had been largely unregulated gambling.

The governor still has more than 90 bills the legislature sent his way before wrapping up their primary work session this year. He must sign or veto the bills before a July 30 deadline or they'll become law without his signature. A veto-override session is scheduled for Aug. 3.