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No casino for Anson County this year, but county manager hopes for another 'roll of the dice'

Downtown Wadesboro used to be bustling with stores, restaurants, and car dealers. Now it has a restaurant, a few tidy storefronts and churches and a courthouse.
Lisa Worf
The Anson County Government Center is seen in downtown Wadesboro.

The odds looked favorable a few months ago that North Carolina lawmakers would approve four new casinos as part of an expansion of legal gambling in the state.

One of those casinos would have gone to the Peachland area of Anson County, about 40 miles east of Charlotte, where some local leaders were excited by the possibility.

But what seemed like a safe bet went sideways last week, when it became clear House Republicans didn’t have enough votes to approve the new casinos.

Anson County Manager Len Sossamon joined WFAE's Nick de la Canal to share his reaction to the news, and talk about what comes next for the county.

WFAE's Nick de la Canal and Anson County Manager Len Sossamon.
Downtown Wadesboro used to be bustling with stores, restaurants, and car lots. Now it has a restaurant, a few tidy storefronts and churches and a courthouse.

De la Canal: So your community won't be allowed to build a casino this year. How are you feeling about it?

Sossamon: Well, it was going to be a $500 million investment by a company into each of those, each of the four counties, if you will, Anson County being one. So we were looking forward to a $500 million investment and 1,700 new jobs plus. And whatever else it might bring, but as you indicated in the intro, and it's not gonna happen for a while if it happens at all.

De la Canal: Well, as you said, the casino, I understand would have created some 1,700 jobs and generated some $4 million a year in tax revenue. What would the county have used that revenue for and more broadly, what kind of an impact would this casino have had in Anson County?

Sossamon: The impact would have been what a lot of folks say is transformational. I mean, we haven't had anything like that happen here forever. To have a $500 million project, which would add about $4 million a year to the property tax income. But then there's also income that would come from the sales tax. It's a 6% tourism tax, as I like to call it the head and bed tax. And then the other associated the taxes, if you will. That was my understanding from the bill, 5% of the net revenues would have been turned over to Anson County as well as in the other counties, something very similar and the state itself had a gaming tax infused into the bill of 22 1/2%. So from what I understood it was going to be somewhere around a billion dollars a year of income to the state of North Carolina.

De la Canal: And what about for Anson County? What would you guys have used that revenue for?

Sossamon: Probably to rebuild our water and sewer system, we could use it for our Department of Social Services, DSS, if you will. Over a few years, we'd have had enough money put back to probably finance a new jail facility, a new courthouse.

De la Canal: So where does the county go from here? Is there any plan moving forward?

Sossamon: Well, you know, it was a General Assembly initiative, not an Anson County or Nash County, Rockingham County initiative. So from here, we'll just continue to do what we normally do and we'll see what happens in the next session.

De la Canal: I wonder how you see this issue playing out over the next few years. North Carolina already has three tribal casinos and a new casino has opened up in Virginia in the town of Danville, near the North Carolina border. Do you think more casinos and legal gambling are the future?

Sossamon: Well, it's sort of like if you go back to the days when North Carolina did not have an education lottery, Virginia had one, Tennessee had one, South Carolina had one even Georgia. So all the states that North Carolina bordered had some type of lottery system in place. And a lot of North Carolinians were going into those states and buying lottery tickets, and that's probably what's happening now because I've talked to some of the folks up in Rockingham County, just south of the city of Danville, where there is a casino. And so they say at any given time right over there, looking at it, the parking lot just drive through, you don't have to stop and gamble and you can just look at the car tags and they're 80% of them, what I've heard, on any given day or from North Carolina.

So I think the intent for Virginia, when they passed it a few years ago, North Carolina was slow to the table, so we'll pick their pocket for a few years. And the only defense is to have your own offense and that would be for North Carolina to create a casino in Rockingham County, Anson County, out in Nash County and maybe one in along 85 in Robeson County. The casinos we have now, like you say, or out in the western part of the state, all those guys and gals in the east, we're like a casino desert, if you will.

De la Canal: And I guess you're hoping that Anson County will one day be a casino oasis in the future?

Sossamon: That is a hope. And of course, we'll see because I've had some people who were disappointed. And of course, there's other people who are not disappointed, but we'll see cause I've heard that it may come up in a future session. It’ll be a roll of the dice, I guess.

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Nick de la Canal is the host of Weekend Edition on Saturday/Sunday mornings, and a reporter covering breaking news, arts and culture, and general assignment stories. His work frequently appears on air and online. Periodically, he tweets: @nickdelacanal