Next to a camp for kids

The five commissioners of Rockingham County, North Carolina voted unanimously to rezone a 192-acre parcel of land to make way for a casino. Before Monday’s vote, the commissions heard from residents who were opposed to the potential infringement on the otherwise quiet, rural county.

“Do what is right,” Kelly Demry told them. “Vote no for our community, but most importantly vote no for our children. If you do not, you will get a ‘no’ vote for me if you seek reelection.”

People often play the “think of the children” card, but in this case, there is a very specific reason. The land that will be rezoned from residential agricultural to highway commercial includes Camp Carefree, a camp for children with special needs. Even when the camp is not in session (which is most of the year), it still hosts children and family groups and events. The casino would essentially be built next to it.

“Let’s stop here and take responsibility for what your jobs are — to oversee the benefits of the citizens of Rockingham County,” said Rhonda Rodenbough, Camp Carefree’s treasurer. “Don’t just look to the developers who keep coming in, wanting to buy our property, wanting to overcrowd our residents, wanting to take parcels of land, and turn them into entertainment districts.”

Just say casino

That term “entertainment district” is interesting, too. Companies and their legal representation that wanted the land rezoned have been reticent about admitting their plans are for a casino, preferring to go with the terms “entertainment district” or “mixed-use development.” Everyone knows the big plan is for a casino, though. Their main pitch is job creation and economic development.

Former US Congressman Mark Walker, now a Republican candidate for governor, called it the “worst kept secret in North Carolina,” adding, “The way this has been handled — the lack of transparency — has not spoken well. It has come across as a railroad job.”

Regardless of what one thinks about the possibility of a casino in Rockingham County, it isn’t guaranteed, even with the unanimous rezoning vote. State lawmakers still need to pass legislation that would legalize commercial casinos. While a possible bill has been written and discussed in Raleigh, nothing has actually been introduced into the legislature.

Lawmakers who are in favor of gambling expansion largely point to out-of-state competition. Virginia recently legalized casinos and there is already one in Danville, just across the border from Rockingham County.

The plan that has been discussed would legalize casinos in Rockingham, Nash, and Aston counties, as well as one in the eastern part of the state for the Lumbee tribe. North Carolina currently has three casinos, all owned by Native American tribes, including Harrah’s Cherokee, which is featured prominently on the WSOP Circuit schedule.

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