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Triangle Downtowner Magazine

Why Downtown Raleigh Could Support a Casino in the Future

May 26, 2021 01:46PM ● By Crash Gregg

Amidst all of the change and growth we’ve seen in Raleigh in the last decade (and Durham too, for that matter), casinos never come up. We see new bars, restaurants, and breweries emerging seemingly on a monthly basis; there are new parks, galleries, and public squares; there have even been proposals for new sports stadiums of late (even if it look as if it will be a while before Raleigh has any new professional teams). But there’s never a whisper of casino activity joining the downtown scene.

This, of course, is because casinos are prohibited in North Carolina, save for on American Indian reservations in the western part of the state. Until that changes, there will be no meaningful talk of this sort of establishment opening up downtown.

With that said, however, some speculation is warranted because there have been little hints of expansion in North Carolina casino entertainment. Most notably, work on a new casino in the Charlotte area has been approved and defended by a judge. It’s a project being run by the Catawba Indian Nation, and it will result in what looks like it could be a true casino in the image of Las Vegas resorts outside of Charlotte. And, crucially, Governor Cooper has 
supported the project by way of establishing a revenue-sharing agreement with the Catawba tribe.

Before anyone gets excited, that doesn’t mean that Cooper is throwing his weight behind casino expansion more generally, and it also doesn’t hint at anything to come in Raleigh. There simply isn’t American Indian land in the immediate vicinity, which means as laws currently stand there is no chance of a nearby casino. That said, Cooper’s interest in casino revenue is at least somewhat intriguing. Recent years have shown that the few states that have legalized various forms of casino gambling have brought in significant revenue, and at a certain point, that becomes a compelling financial argument to a government official.

The interesting question is whether or not a new casino would work or fit in with the downtown Raleigh scene if it ever became a real possibility. And while it sounds like a strange idea now, there are actually reasons to trust the concept.

First and foremost, casinos today are perhaps more accessible than ever to newcomers. Slot machines that might once have seemed outdated and geared toward longtime players have been updated and upgraded. They are now — typically — electronic experiences more like video game arcades than old, dull slot reels. And poker — the game many first think of when imagining casinos — has become easier to get used to as well. 
Online poker guides for beginners consolidate all of the relevant rules, terms, and strategies into very simple overviews, and any relevant website or app can provide a few practice runs at a digital poker table. Simply put, Raleigh residents would have no trouble getting up to speed with the actual gaming side of things.

Another interesting factor with regard to Raleigh especially is that casinos are in some respects glorified restaurants and bars. Certainly, they are more unique than that, and the games are framed as the main attractions. But the best casinos tend to host interesting restaurants and bars, where endless streams of visitors stop by to drink and dine. This, perhaps more than anything else, is what makes Raleigh an interesting option for a casino developer. For years now our city has been among the best in the country with regard to restaurant and bar openings. The opportunity for local chefs, bartenders, and breweries to set up shop in a casino venue would make for excellent publicity.

It is also important to keep in mind that, as mentioned above, Raleigh has been trying new things with incredible energy and consistency for quite some time now. Even this year, as the city awakens at what we hope will be the tail end of a pandemic, there are new developments making news — 
from the arrival of a cryotherapy brand to plans for a new downtown park at Devereux Meadow. It will be a while before a casino can be added to the list, but if Raleigh continues to innovate at this pace, it will be an ideal place for North Carolina’s first casino outside of American Indian territory (when the time comes).

These arguments won’t sway state legislators, and at this point, there is still no telling when or if casinos will be allowed in North Carolina. With expansion on American Indian territory underway though, and with some other states enjoying significant casino revenues, it’s become a more relevant topic. And because of the factors discussed above, it seems likely Raleigh will be involved if the day ever comes.

Melia Walston is a freelance writer with a passion for gaming. She loves to write about every genre of the gaming industry. In her free time, she loves to play poker.