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With tweaks, Cherokee gambling compact moves to House floor

A gambling compact between the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is headed for a full House vote after lawmakers added a provision taking power away from the governor to negotiate new casino locations.

The change is just the latest designed to win votes from a reluctant state House, where an unusual group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers put the compact's approval in question. The House may vote Wednesday if the budget debate scheduled for earlier in the day runs smoothly.

The 30-year compact allows Las Vegas-style live dealer games -- such as blackjack, poker and roulette -- for the first time in North Carolina with the state receiving a small percentage of the new revenue. Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue struck the agreement in November but it requires the legislature to change state law, so lawmakers became involved in the negotiations.

The sticking point is how many casinos the tribe can open on its lands in western North Carolina. The original compact gave them unlimited sites and the governor the ability to sign off on new locations. The Senate asked for an amended compact to limit the number of gaming sites to five -- and the House whittled the number to three. On Wednesday morning, the House Commerce committee added a provision giving the legislature the sole authority to approve more than three sites, as opposed to the governor.

Another question is the gaming revenues for the state. North Carolina would only get part of the revenues from new games -- not all games, as is the practice in Florida's gaming compact. State Rep. Harold Brubaker, a chief Republican supporter, said he would be fine if the state didn't receive any revenue. "Native Americans in this country have really been taken to the cleaners," said Brubaker, a Hosue budget writer whose wife's grandfather is part Cherokee.

Republican gubernatorial nominee Pat McCrory supports the compact unlike socially conservative Republicans who oppose the expansion of gambling in the state. But even he is questioning whether the state is getting a good deal. "I do think we need to look at how much expansion and if the state is getting its fair share of the revenue," he said recently.


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