Politics & Government

‘Casino Night’ fundraiser at NC Museum of History canceled after legal questions

Legislative Republicans have renewed their criticism of Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2017 veto of a bill allowing nonprofit “game night” fundraising events featuring casino-style games and alcohol — and it’s prompted a popular fundraiser to get canceled.

In a news release Wednesday, Rep. Jamie Boles of Moore County and Sen. Rick Gunn of Alamance County, both Republicans, pointed to a “Casino Night” event being held this weekend at the N.C. Museum of History, and they said Cooper’s administration is violating a law he refused to change.

“This game night is occurring on state property, literally across the street from the governor’s office where he decided not to allow it,” Gunn said in a news release.

The governor’s office isn’t involved in facility rentals at the history museum, which is available for private events and overseen by the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources. Saturday’s event is an annual fundraiser hosted by the N.C. Museum of History Associates, and its website promises “casino game tables” and “blackjack tables” in addition to food and alcohol.

A spokeswoman for the museum referred questions to the group, which told the Insider Wednesday that the event is in compliance with current law.

“Games are played for fun only, which is had in spades,” said the group’s treasurer, local attorney Stephen Later. “Casino Night is an annual fundraiser that raises money for the North Carolina Museum of History and its exhibits, programming, and purchase of artifacts important to the state’s history.”

But on Thursday, the group announced that Casino Night has been canceled. “With differing interpretations of the law, canceling the event was the safest thing to do,” Later said in another statement released to media.

The 2017 bill allowing for “game night” fundraisers passed the House and Senate with bipartisan support — and some bipartisan opposition — but legislative leaders didn’t have enough votes to override Cooper’s veto. In his veto message, the governor said he’s not opposed to “legitimate nonprofits holding an occasional ‘game night’ to help with donations to worthy causes,” but he said the bill could have “unintended consequences” opening the door to video poker.

On Thursday, Gunn filed a similar bill to try again this session. Senate Bill 66 includes many of the same restrictions on game night events as before — including a prohibition on cash prizes — but it deletes a section in the 2017 bill that would allow for the use of alcohol as prizes. SB 66 also calls for the N.C. Department of Public Safety to maintain records about game night permits and recommend any needed changes to the law to the 2020 General Assembly.

“Game nights are a major source of fundraising — often the most successful — for many charities and nonprofits throughout the state of North Carolina,” Gunn said in a news release. “It is unconscionable that the governor would veto the bill that would have allowed these worthy causes to raise funds for their communities.”