Although not part of the recent talk involving US states advancing sports wagering legislation, North Carolina quickly jumped into the select group this week. It has been over a year since internal conversation involving online wagering and sports betting within the Tar Heel State has relatively taken place.
Gov. Roy Cooper has approved a proposed amendment allowing the tribe to offer sports betting, while Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is looking to expand.
Previously, North Carolina’s General Assembly had voted in favor of sports betting. Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos owned by the tribe could not offer action until their tribal compact had been amended. That process was expected to be completed by April 2020; however, Gov. Cooper delayed the process by more than six months, citing COVID-19 as a primary cause.
Agreeing with Gov. Cooper, Sneed said,
COVID-19 has negatively impacted funding for critical community services within our nation, so we welcome this diverse revenue stream. The addition of these new services is a positive step towards a more stable and secure future for our Tribal members and government operations.
Sneed also offered opinion this opinion at a Tribal Council meeting:
I had a very candid conversation with the governor about that fact that this was only supposed to take 180 days. I don’t think he was very happy with my comments, but that’s just too bad. I feel like we were just kind of strung along with this for a year, and there was really no need for it. But thankfully it’s done.
It is quite doubtful anything will be readily accomplished this month. A hopeful goal would be a premiere date in time for the anticipated NCAA College Basketball Tournament in March 2021 or perhaps with full cooperation a bit sooner.
Ann Davis, attorney for the Tribal Gaming Commercial Enterprise, said:
If I were a real optimist, I would hope maybe by the end of January, maybe in time for the Super Bowl. Don’t hold your breath though, because we’ve got two issues with the Department of the Interior: COVID and administration change.
Securing Cooper’s signature is the first step in the process and there is no exact date when that might happen yet. After that, the North Carolina Department of the Interior has a 45-day window to approve the changes to the compact. Also, there is no indication right now that the extended time frame will be shortened to move things along.
Any business plan involving adding online gambling in North Carolina will be a trickier process for political reasons and also because of some logistical factors.
Overall, North Carolina politicians have opposed legalized wagering despite US growth and demand from people within the state. Statistically, the state ranks last within the Eastern region to approve a state-sanctioned lottery. Also, North Carolina is still among a select number of states in the area without a land-based casino.
That is rapidly changing with powerful support within the state that includes Carolina Panther’s owner David Tepper, who has officially supported legalized wagering. Also adding to the pressure for North Carolina is bordering state Virginia, who recently announced they will have online wagering debuting in early 2021.
It is unlikely that political forces will eliminate advances to online wagering and sports betting soon, however it might slow the process. There also are several religious and conservative groups in North Carolina that permeate politics that could deter progress and have their opinion involved in this new agreement.
The remaining potential factor is the Catawba Tribe, which is planning to build a resort near Charlotte, close to the South Carolina border. Although the Catawba’s federally recognized tribal lands are in South Carolina, the federal government has allowed them the opportunity to advance plans in North Carolina.
Combining these overriding factors, it seems people in North Carolina will be facing a similar version of what people in New York state have been facing for quite a while. It is inevitable there will be online gaming to include sports betting, however, the timetable will likely be pushed back slightly for several political and logistic reasons.
As for onsite sportsbooks, there is no doubt current operators are ready to go. The construction of sportsbooks at two North Carolina casinos is complete. Also, key employees for the operations have also been identified.
The Cherokee Tribe operate their two casinos in the state under a licensing agreement for the Harrah’s brand with Caesars. As Caesars recently agreed to purchase William Hill, it would be assumed they would be the designated operator involved.
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Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.
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