‘Our neighborhood deserves better’: Man regrets deal after learning land may host casino

When he was approached with a deal to buy the land in Nash County that has been in his family for generations, Kent Dozier says, he didn’t know who would be buying it or what they would build there.

Dozier, 80, says it wasn’t until after he signed a contract and it went into effect that he heard that a casino might be coming to Nash County, and realized that his land could end up being used for it. Top Republicans in the legislature say they are considering sanctioning up to four casinos, including one in Nash.

Despite asking several times, Dozier said all he was told by the attorney on the other side of the deal was that the development would consist of 80% white collar jobs, and that Dozier would be pleased with it.

Dozier met with the attorney, Tony Copeland, of the powerful Brooks Pierce law firm, in May 2022. Prior to joining the firm, Copeland served as commerce secretary in Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration from 2017 to 2021.

Other members of Dozier’s family signed options on their own land, but Dozier, the only member of his family who currently lives on the property, held out on signing the deal that would give Copeland’s client the right to purchase his approximately 32 acres of land in Rocky Mount about five miles west of downtown.

“I’ve been living here 50 years. This is the house that my great-granddaddy built and my granddaddy raised his family here,” Dozier told The News & Observer.

Maryland casino developer appears to be involved

In April 2023, after Copeland’s client agreed to include Dozier’s home in the deal as well, he signed the agreement, giving them the option to purchase his three parcels of agricultural and residential land at any point up until the end of the year.

“I chose to tell him that they were going to have to buy my home. I wasn’t going to stay here not knowing what was going to be right outside my window.”

When he signed the option, Dozier says the name of the purchaser wasn’t listed on the contract. When he got it back in May, signed and notarized, the purchaser was listed as NC Development Holdings, LLC — a holding company that appears to be connected to Baltimore-based casino developer The Cordish Companies.

If he knew beforehand that he was potentially giving up his land for a casino, Dozier said he never would’ve signed the agreement. And now that he’s signed the option, he can’t back out of the deal. Ultimately, he said, he feels deceived.

“I point-blank asked, what businesses are going out here,” Dozier said. “And the only answer I ever got was 80% white collar jobs. That doesn’t tell me anything.”

The holding company’s involvement in potential casino plans in North Carolina was first reported in July by WRAL, which reported that the company’s registered address was the same as Cordish’s, and that paperwork for the holding company filed with the N.C. Secretary of State’s office listed Joseph Weinberg, the head of Cordish’s gaming division, as the “principal’s authorized representative.”

The option agreement Dozier signed also lists Weinberg as the “authorized representative.”

Copeland is also one of several registered lobbyists for Cordish in North Carolina, according to filings with the Secretary of State’s office. He declined to comment for this story.

Future of casinos unclear as opposition grows

Dozier, who has lived in Nash County his entire life, said many residents near the area where a casino could be built oppose the idea due to concerns about other problems being introduced, including prostitution and drug trafficking.

“Our neighborhood deserves better than all this crap,” Dozier said.

Residents in Rockingham County, another proposed site for a casino under the plan GOP lawmakers have been considering, have tried to stop the plan from moving forward, citing similar concerns about what such a large development would do to their rural neighborhoods.

The future of the proposal remains unclear.

GOP leaders were trying to build support for the proposal being included in the upcoming state budget, but on Wednesday, House Speaker Tim Moore informed his colleagues that there wasn’t enough support in the House Republican Caucus to take action on casinos in the budget, which is expected as soon as early next week.