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North Of The Border Casino Takes First Step Forward

a man sitting at a video poker machine
Kent Buckingham
Flickr, Creative Commons,

Danville, Virginia, is petitioning its legislature to consider allowing a referendum on gambling. The vote could eventually lead to a resort and casino just an hour from the Triangle and Triad.

Danville is an old mill town that sits just north of the North Carolina border. What used to be a thriving textile industry has mostly moved overseas, and the city's population has been steadily declining for decades.

When a proposal to create thousands of jobs and billions in spending comes along, residents notice. Danville's city council members say their phones have been ringing off the hook from their constiutents weighing in. They say it has been mostly positive feedback.

At their latest meeting, Vice Mayor Lee Vogler said a resort and cansino have the potential to generate millions in annual tax revenue.

"Revenue that can improve our schools that desperately need it, revenue that can provide more funding for our police and firefighters, revenue that can upgrade our aging infrastructure," Vogler said. "If we as a council turn that away without ever giving our citizens a chance to weigh in on it, what kind of representatives would we be?"

Council members said they were neither supporting nor opposing a casino, but continually made the case for its economic impact.

"Seven thousand potential new jobs, over $1 billion in new spending in our city over the next 10 years... to me, that's a no-brainer," said council member James Buckner.

Buckner said he, too, got overwhelmingly positive comments from his constituents.

"If we don't allow our citizens this opportunity, it's a great injustice to the citizens of Danville," he said.

An estimate from the city says the jobs would carry an average salary of $46,000.

Council member Larry Campbell said he heard concerns about whether a casino would produce more crime, but he said he believed it would actually reduce it.

"If we do not have more jobs in our area, we will have an increase in crime," Campbell said.

North Carolina and Virginia's gambling laws are relatively strict. North Carolina has two sanctioned casinos. Both are in the far western part of the state and are affiliated with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. And the state has cracked down on sweepstakes parlors in recent years. But at least three cities in Virginia are interested in new casinos.

The Danville city council voted unanimously for the resolution asking for a local referendum. The Virginia legislature would have to approve it before it goes back to the city for a vote.

Will Michaels is WUNC's General Assignment Reporter and fill-in host for "Morning Edition"
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