NC Should Charge for Search and Rescue

logo on the door of a North Carolina Search and Rescue Task Force vehicle

An aerial photo of the new temporary casino being built in Danville Virginia
There are lots of reasons to live in and be proud of the Triad. New jobs are springing up every day. We’re blessed with a number of universities and community colleges. We have a myriad of great bars and restaurants, and there are several professional sports teams to root for. Healthcare is accessible, and crisis services are available to those in need. Yes, we have it all in the Triad, except when we don’t. We don’t have a casino in the Triad. We don’t have live horse racing and off-track betting in the Triad. And, if your quality of life would improve with access to medical marijuana, then you’d better live somewhere else. The fact is that Virginia has North Carolina beat when it comes to voting on, approving, and implementing new initiatives.

Actually, our neighbors to the north have been getting the better of us for quite some time. For example, Virginia approved its statewide lottery in 1987, while we didn’t start scratching off until 2005. 

In 1994 Virginia approved the development of a live horse racing track, and three years later, Colonial Downs opened along with a number of off-track betting parlors. Here in North Carolina, we’re just now getting around to allowing sports betting, but we’re nowhere close to approving a live horse racing facility. 

Meanwhile, the first medical marijuana dispensary in Virginia opened in August 2020, and one year later, Virginians were able to purchase and possess small amounts of weed for recreational purposes. The General Assembly in Raleigh is still debating medical marijuana, and there’s no provision for recreational use in sight. 

Speaking of recreational, if you’re over 125 years old, you may recall that in 1919 Congress passed the 18th Amendment which prohibited the sale of alcohol. But goody-two-shoes North Carolina started banning booze 10 years BEFORE Prohibition went into effect. Virginia, on the other hand, kept selling spirits until the Feds made the ban official. In the interim, those of us in The Old (Dry) North State got into our cars, drove into Virginia, and put our money in The Old Dominion’s coffers (estimated at nearly $400 million in today’s dollars). That kind of senseless revenue loss is the common theme that runs through North Carolina’s heel-dragging policy decisions on the lottery, racetrack and off-track betting, and pot. And that brings us to casinos.

After several years of negotiating, and federal recognition of their tribe, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) were able to operate a casino, which opened near Cherokee in 1997 with video poker and slots. Managed by Harrah’s, the casino has undergone a number of expansions and renovations, the last of which was completed in 2021. As promised, revenues from what is now a full-service casino and resort have helped to improve the lives of Cherokee tribesmen. In that regard, North Carolina was ahead of Virginia whose legislative body didn’t approve casino operations until 2020. But unlike our state’s initial focus on one major gaming facility, Virginia gave approval for casinos to operate in five different cities. One of those, Danville, opened a temporary casino earlier this year with a full-blown Caesar’s resort to open next year. 

According to the Winston-Salem Journal, Caesar’s Danville brought in nearly $12 million dollars in its first two weeks of operation, with $715,521 of that going directly into the city’s coffers. And, not surprisingly, a member of Danville City Council told me that most of the gamblers came from outside of the city, many of whom made the short drive from the Triad to spend their money in Virginia — the same way we once did with booze, lottery tickets, parimutuel betting, and now marijuana.

As is, most people in our area can drive to Danville in under an hour. But they wouldn’t have to leave home at all if we had a casino here in the Triad. And think of what a boost that would be if folks throughout North Carolina and Virginia spent their mad money here. It would mean more funding for our students, teachers, police, and firefighters. That’s why our state lawmakers need to drive up to Virginia, smoke some legal weed, chill out, and then adopt that state’s five-city casino plan as soon as possible. It’s a long shot, I know, but sometimes you have to gamble in order to gamble.


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