A controversial effort by North Carolina Republicans to sign off on the development of up to four new casinos in the state drew rare rebukes from prominent national conservatives on Thursday.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, which hosts major conservative speakers and elected officials every year, weighed in on the Republican proposal, posting on social media that there had been “lots of troubling reports of backroom deals and arm twisting coming out of North Carolina.”
“A full-scale expansion of gaming, including video terminals and new casinos, is being wedged into a budget bill that was supposed to be about tax cuts for the people of the state,” CPAC posted on Twitter. “Transparency is dying in the darkness.”
The post went on to urge members of the House Freedom Caucus to “stand strong and hold the line.”
Donald Trump Jr. shared the post by CPAC, calling the proposal to include casinos in the budget “outrageous.”
“Shady back room deals and crony capitalism are not the path to #MAGA!” Trump said.
The attention CPAC and Trump drew to the proposal from their national audiences came as some local constituents of top Republicans who have been trying to build support for the opening of new casinos continue to oppose the plan and urge the rest of the House Republican Caucus to reject it.
On Tuesday, as House Republicans met for more than three hours to discuss the casino proposal, a group of residents from Rockingham and Nash counties — two of the four counties that could host new casinos if the bill goes through — traveled to Raleigh to meet with lawmakers and ask them not to support the plan.
After the caucus meeting, House Speaker Tim Moore told reporters that GOP leaders were still trying to determine if the proposal had support from at least 50% of the 72-member caucus. Without that, Moore said, the proposal wouldn’t be included in the budget.
Some Republicans in the caucus have not been reluctant to voice their opposition.
Rep. Neal Jackson, a pastor who represents Moore and Randolph counties, has said multiple times in recent days he is against expanding casinos, writing on social media that more casinos would place a heavier burden on law enforcement and introduce other problems like more crime, addiction, and sex trafficking.
Senate leader Phil Berger, who represents Rockingham County, has continued to indicate that if the proposal is to move forward, it’ll have to be added to the budget.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday morning, Berger reiterated that a standalone bill approving new casinos is not likely to advance on its own, according to CBS 17.