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For and against: Commissioners discuss casino resolution vote



Although the casino issue is dead for now, it is expected to be brought up for discussion at some point by state lawmakers — the unknown being when.

This past Monday, Halifax County commissioners deadlocked 3-3 on a resolution supporting the city of Roanoke Rapids and its efforts to be in the running had the legislation passed.

The week before commissioners turned down the resolution by a 3-2 measure with Commissioner Chenoa Richardson Davis absent. Davis voted in favor of the resolution this past Monday along with Linda Brewer and Vernon Bryant. Commissioners Carolyn Johnson, John Smith and Sammy Webb voted against the resolution in both meetings.

For those who voted in the affirmative the question came down to a matter of perceived economic benefits while those who voted against the measure said it was either because they didn’t believe Halifax County was ready for such an endeavor, moral grounds, or calling for a referendum when the issue resurfaces.

All but one of the commissioners discussed their votes this week, Webb opting to send a written statement on his reasons for not supporting the city’s efforts.

For the resolution

“I supported it even though I don’t gamble because it was the biggest opportunity economically for the city of Roanoke Rapids and also the county,” Brewer said, referring to, “The $3.8 million (in taxes) that the county would get and the $3.3 million that the city would get. This was an entity coming in not asking for one cent in any kind of incentives. That’s why I supported it.”

Brewer said, “Our needs out here are tremendous throughout the county and I just felt like the money would flow throughout the county. I don’t see this as an opportunity for one municipality — I see it as a county opportunity. My job is to look out for the entire county — that’s my job and that’s why I supported it.”

Bryant said, “I supported the resolution because it would be a game-changer for Halifax County. This could put Roanoke Rapids and Halifax County at the table for consideration if and when a casino rises again.”

Bryant said, “We’re a Tier 1 county that has faced many challenges, including losing textile jobs, coupled with a decline in our population over the years. This could help Halifax County move from a Tier 1 county to a Tier 2 status.”

The chair of the board said, “We’re talking about an entertainment district that would be family-oriented, a district that will provide more jobs and opportunities for our citizens as well as the visitors off Interstate 95.”

He said, “Without question, in my mind, approval of this resolution would have been a win-win for Halifax County now and into the future. That’s why I voted yes and strongly supported this resolution.”

Said Davis: “I voted in the affirmative because I felt like it was a great economic opportunity for our county. It seemed like it was a low-risk opportunity for us. The proposed law had written in there that the company would be expected to invest $500 million into the county. I just thought that was a win for us and when you think about recruiting businesses, just from hearing the past, a lot of them are looking for incentives like tax breaks and things like that — well this company was not looking for incentives.”

Davis said, “I just felt like it was a great opportunity economically that could trickle down through the different agencies we have in Halifax County. It would be more money for school systems, more money for a new jail. I just felt like it was a very good move to support it. I’m only one vote and that was my vote.”

The entertainment district, she said, “Has been there for a long time and nothing’s really been done with it. I don’t know number-wise how much money is being lost in Roanoke Rapids with taxes. I know it’s been bought so that’s a good thing but for a long time they had to pay the taxes on it. I just felt like it would be a good fit for that property to finally put it into use — the economic benefits outweighed everything else.”

Against the resolution

“I’m not real sure that we are prepared for a casino,” Johnson said. “I know they’re talking about the number of jobs, but I also know from previous experiences — I lived in Maryland and was very aware of the casinos in Delaware — I knew they had to pull people from other places because they did just not have the individuals to man or be employed in a casino of that magnitude. Also, there’s a whole issue of the security for a place like that that’s open 24-7 and our police departments right now are needing people to work. Those were my concerns — my concerns were, are we ready at this point for a casino in our area?”

Smith was the only commissioner during the first vote on the resolution who said he could not support it. “Mine was more from a moral standpoint I guess you may say to a certain extent than anything else,” he said. “Casinos, the way that I see them, it’s a chancy thing. You’re going to find people going in, then we’re going to have tourists going in, that’s true. But we’re also going to have our local people that I feel like will be frequenting that really can’t afford to.”

He said, “I see that on a daily basis from the little game rooms and things we have now. I see the people going in and then I see them in the next couple of weeks coming to me, asking me to loan them money to pay rent as well as other people — doing things that I feel are going to be a detriment to their families. To bring that in I feel it’s going to bring even more of that. My thing is we’re making it easier for them to do it.”

Smith talked about locals who are crossing the border to gamble at Virginia casinos. “They’re even bringing up the fact of them traveling to Danville to do it and places of that sort. The way I look at it is that it may be OK if I’m a gambler, maybe I’ll go to Danville on weekends. Now, traveling from Scotland Neck to Roanoke Rapids I can go every night and still be able to get up and go to work the next morning. Now I have afforded them an easier way to continue to become addicted and that’s basically what it ends up being is an addiction. 

“They even said there was a certain amount of money set aside for mental illness. That tells me right there you realize that it’s going to become an addiction to some people.”

Smith said even if Johnson and Webb had flipped their votes this past Monday, which some privately expressed was going to happen, “I could not have because that was my conviction. If I say one week I’m against and then come back the next (in favor), you’d say what kind of conviction do you have?”

In his written statement, Webb said, “As a county commissioner, I am not in the position to legislate morals. However, I am in the position to make sure the citizens of Halifax County are fully informed about every matter that comes before the board. The citizens of Halifax County deserve full transparency.”

He said on September 18 a resolution for the Halifax County Commissioners to support the efforts of the city of Roanoke Rapids to secure casino and gaming operations in the Carolina Crossroads Entertainment District was presented. “Prior to September 18, 2023 the only information I had regarding this issue was from the news media. I asked questions during the meeting and no one could answer any of my questions,” he said.

The commissioner said, “Some echo the positive financial impact the casino and gaming operations would have on the county. They compare it to the casinos in Virginia. However this proposed legislation is not like Virginia’s legislation. A  $500 million dollar investment and 1,750 jobs is a massive undertaking. My question is ‘What is the negative impact?’”

On September 25 the commissioners revisited the issue. “I read news articles, talked to citizens and tried to gather all the information that I could before the meeting. Our Economic Director Cathy Scott presented a report on the financial impact the casino could have on the area, but never talked about the negative impact.”

Webb said the state of Virginia studied the casino and gaming issue for several years and had allowed a local referendum. “I voted no due to the lack of full transparency. The issue of casino and gaming operations will come up again in the General Assembly. I will support a county referendum on the issue. That will allow the citizens of Halifax County to weigh the positive and negative impact of the matter and enable them to make a well-informed decision. Let the people decide.”

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