Under the Dome

Roy Cooper opposes proposed Catawba casino

Roy Cooper is traveling the state as the voice of opposition to Pat McCrory.

But one issue where the Democratic attorney general and Republican governor agree: the proposed Catawba casino in Kings Mountain.

In a recent interview, Cooper said he "has real concerns" about the Catawba Indian Nation's bid to build a 16-acre resort and casino just across the state border along Interstate 85.

Earlier this year, the South Carolina-based tribe submitted an application to put the property into federal trust, the first step toward establishing a gambling operation.

"I think it's a bad idea for our state," Cooper said. "We are are busily trying to shut down video poker parlors all across the state and I don't think we need another operation like that to stimulate the economy. There are other industries we should recruit."

The tribe and Cleveland County officials are touting the project as a way to revitalize a local economy with one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation.

McCrory's office had explored the project and met with tribe and local officials earlier this year. But he later said he opposed a casino. House and Senate lawmakers, likewise, are asking the federal government not to grant the application.

Nevertheless, the plan is getting support from an unlikely source: coastal state Sen. Thom Goolsby. Earlier this month, the Wilmington Republican issued a statement shifting his stance on gambling and endorsing the project.

In a statement issued by his office, Goolsby cautioned that he has "never been a proponent of the state lottery or casino gambling" but sees a need for a consistent approach, given that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians operates a casino in far western North Carolina.

"It is not the role of the General Assembly to pick winners and losers," he wrote. "If state leaders want North Carolina to once again become a non-gaming state, I will agree to shut down the state lottery and petition federal officials to shut down the Cherokee casino. When it comes to gaming policy, the state cannot have it both ways."

Goolsby urged his legislative colleagues to negotiate a revenue sharing compact with the Catawbas. "A Catawba-run casino resort operating under the same rules and guidelines as the Cherokee casino could generate millions of dollars each year and numerous jobs in this economically depressed area of our state," Goolsby wrote. "These funds could be used to raise teacher pay and meet other critical needs.”

Goolsby did not return numerous messages about his statement.