According to a report published by the media agency Carolina Public Press, at least eight lawmakers received thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the Baltimore-based gambling firm The Cordish Companies. The news immediately attracted the attention of gambling expansion experts, who believe that this will tip the scales in favor of The Cordish in the competition for a gambling license. Currently, North Carolina lawmakers are considering a casino bill, seeking to allow one business to establish up to three casinos in some of the most deprived areas.
According to a disclosure filed with the North Carolina State Board of Elections and the Federal Election Commission, four donors associated with The Cordish gave $34,400 contributions to campaign committees of at least eight legislators between November 2022 and March 2023.
But North Carolina’s law does not prohibit out-of-state entities from donating funds to political campaigns. Moreover, lawmakers can receive contributions of up to $6,400 from each donor in contributions per election. Last year, the maximum amount lawmakers could receive in donations was $5,600. Joseph Weinberg, chief executive officer of Cordish Gaming Group and Cordish Global Cities Entertainment reportedly gave Senate leader Phil Berger a contribution of $5,600 last November.
Senator Lisa Barnes, Republican John Bell, and Republican Jason Saine each accepted a $5,600 contribution from Weinberg in November 2022. The list of lawmakers who received contributions from other donors also includes Sen. David Craven, Rep. Kyle Hall, Rep. Larry Strickland, Sen. Todd Johnson, and Rep. Kathy Manning.
Campaign Contributions are Not Illegal, But are They Fair?
Bob Hall, the former executive director of Democracy NC, has confirmed that campaign donations do not violate the law. Mr. Hall called the situation a “pay-to-play scheme” and did not refuse that the system was corrupt. In May, Hall even filed a complaint with the North Carolina State Board of Elections, alerting authorities about the video poker industry’s alleged campaign financial misconduct. He urged them to look into the $885,000 contributions made by the industry to candidates and party committees between 2019 and 2022.
Although many believe that such campaign contributions would give an unfair advantage to The Cordish, Christopher Cooper, a professor of political science and public affairs at Western Carolina University, says that this will not necessarily happen.
North Carolina legislators are now discussing a casino expansion bill, seeking to establish four new casinos in the state. Lawmakers plan to authorize one operator to build gambling establishments in Anson, Nash, and Rockingham counties. The fourth gambling venue will be operated by the Lumbee Tribe. If the bill gets the nod in the state Legislature, the new gambling establishments will create more jobs and boost North Carolina’s coffers. Currently, the state has two land-based casinos, both operated by Native American tribes.