RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A new poll released Thursday morning shows most Republican voters in Senate leader Phil Berger’s district oppose the proposal to legalize more casinos in North Carolina.
The poll, which was conducted on Tuesday by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic polling firm, finds that 60% of likely Republican primary voters in Berger’s district oppose the plan compared to 28% supporting it.
Berger represents Rockingham County and portions of Guilford County. If the legislature passed the casino proposal, it was expected one of the casinos would end up in Rockingham County.
In addition, the poll shows 41% of those voters disapprove of Sen. Berger’s job performance compared to 26% who approve.
“When asked if they would vote to re-elect Senator Berger or if someone new should be given a chance, just 30% said they would vote to re-elect him while 45% said it was time for someone else,” writes Jim Williams, of Public Policy Polling, in a memo. The memo is below:
Sen. Berger (R-Rockingham), one of the state’s most powerful elected officials, has been one of the leading advocates for a proposal that would legalize four more casinos as well as video lottery terminals. It’s been expected that one of the casinos would end up in Rockingham County, where Berger lives. County commissioners recently approved a request to rezone land that could be the site of a future casino.
Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland) announced Tuesday night that they were dropping plans to include expanded gambling in the state budget amid pushback from a minority of Republicans in the legislature and most Democrats.
“It became crystal clear to me that the facts, the merit of the proposal was sort of beside the point in terms of what was being discussed,” Berger said. “If we decided to just try to wait it out instead of calming things down, it was unlikely to do that.”
When asked about the issue Wednesday, Sen. Berger said he still supports the idea of legalizing the additional casinos, noting the legislation authorizing them called for at least 1,750 jobs to be created at each casino site and for developers to invest at least $500 million.
Berger said he hasn’t determined yet if he would try to pass the proposal during next year’s short session again through the budget or as a standalone bill.
“The issue is out there and folks can have conversations about it. We’ll see if there is a pathway and what is the most reasonable and likely pathway for success,” he said.
Berger faced criticism for attempting to include the proposal in the state budget this year. The discussions about it had been occurring behind closed doors for months. On Saturday, CBS 17 was the first to obtain the latest version of the legislation that would have authorized the casinos.
The issue has become a flashpoint in some Republican primary races ahead of the 2024 election.
Rockingham County Sheriff Sam Page, who is running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, has been one of the leading opponents of the casino proposal. Former U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, a Republican running for governor, also has organized events in the community and been vocal about his opposition to the plan as he seeks to gain ground on frontrunner Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson. The lieutenant governor refused to state his position on the issue when asked recently by CBS 17.
The group Citizens for Good Growth in Rockingham County released a statement Wednesday saying they “celebrate” the fact that the gambling proposal was not included in the budget.
“There are powerful interests and a lot of out-of-state money attempting to influence our great state. We are still working with affected landowners to challenge the Rockingham County Commissioners’ erroneous rezoning decision that was made with the intent to pave the way for a casino next to Camp Carefree,” Doug Isley and Brandon Leebrick wrote in a statement.
In the next few weeks, state lawmakers will redraw the electoral districts for Congress and the General Assembly.
When asked whether the potential for a primary opponent affected his decision not to continue pursuing the gambling proposal for now, Sen. Berger said, “Who knows what’s going to happen as far as that’s concerned? That was not something that really factored into the decisions that I made.”