North Carolina seemed like it would become an early entrant into the sports betting industry. The rural south hasn’t traditionally been friendly to gambling expansions. But when Governor Cooper signed sports betting into law in July 2019, North Carolina seemed ready to take cautious steps toward sports betting.
But at the beginning of 2021, North Carolinians are still waiting to place their first sports wagers. Many states have gaps between legalizing sports betting and offering sports betting. Usually, the state’s gambling commission is the source of the holdup. States often legalize sports betting, then the gaming commission takes over to write industry rules. However, Governor Cooper’s delayed response to a key amendment to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ gaming compact has pushed the expected launch over a year.
And online sports betting will be delayed even further.
Why North Carolina Sports Betting Took So Long To Launch
North Carolina’s sports betting bill limited sports betting to tribal casinos. In a state that’s wary of expanded gambling, this was a compromise. Sports betting became a new game at a casino rather than a statewide expansion of a newly-legal type of gambling. The General Assembly passed the bill easily, and Governor Cooper signed it into law on July 26, 2019.
But the next step was amending the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ gaming compact to allow sports betting. Tribal gaming compacts are agreements between states and tribes with reservations in those states. In 1987, the Supreme Court ruled that states could not enforce their gambling laws on tribal reservations. A year later, Congress passed the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act to reconcile new tribal freedoms with state law.
Gaming compacts were the result. They list the types of gambling tribes can offer and the terms they have to abide by to offer them. States and tribes sign them, then the National Indian Gaming Commission approves them. It’s a larger chain of command than commercial sportsbooks, but it’s all part of the compromise between tribal sovereignty and states’ rights.
Governor Cooper’s Slow Response
Before opening a sportsbook, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian’s gaming compact needed an amendment. So, in October 2019, the tribe sent a proposed amendment to the Governor’s desk for approval. The tribe expected the Governor to act on it by April 2020, so tribal sportsbooks could open in time for the NFL season.
The Governor didn’t approve the amendment until December 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic likely whisked him away from gaming matters. Based on his silence and the tribe’s difficulty in reaching his office, tribal gaming likely ended up on the backburner for Governor Cooper. But now that he and the tribal council approved the amendment, the National Indian Gaming Commission has to approve the amended gaming compact. Between an administration change and a laser focus on ending the pandemic, North Carolina’s gaming compact could drag again.
What About Online Sports Betting?
North Carolina’s gaming bill limited sports betting to tribal casinos. That meant North Carolina would begin as a retail-only sports betting state. But there’s one door open to online sports betting. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are waiting for geofencing technology to be approved before offering online sports betting. However, online betting would only be allowed on the reservation. North Carolina bettors will still have a big drive ahead of them to place sports wagers.
One trend to watch for will be whether North Carolinians flock to Tennessee to place mobile sports wagers. Overall, bettors prefer mobile sports betting to retail sports betting. In Indiana, mobile sports betting’s success influenced the decision to push a new online casino bill. In New Jersey, about a fifth of the state’s online sports wagers came from New Yorkers who found New Jersey mobile betting more convenient than New York retail betting. When mobile sportsbooks go live in Virginia, North Carolinians may flock to Tennessee and Virginia out of convenience.
Preferences for online sports betting may force North Carolina to consider commercial sports betting. Especially if other states cannibalize North Carolina’s tribal sports betting patrons.
Tribal Sports Betting Funds
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians expects to make $10 million in gross gaming revenues from sports betting. But they won’t pay state taxes like commercial casinos. Per the gaming compact, the tribe will pay $191,000 per year to fund problem gambling programs and administrative costs associated with sports betting regulation. (While tribes do not pay state or federal taxes, individual Native Americans pay federal taxes on their personal incomes.)
Online Sports Betting In North Carolina
Online sports betting is still a long way off for North Carolinians. Governor Cooper dragged his feet on the amendment to the tribal gaming compact that could’ve allowed sports betting to launch in 2020. But waiting until December 2020 could make tribal sportsbooks miss wagers on the Super Bowl and March Madness. That would slow sports betting’s start in North Carolina considerably.
But if you want to prepare for North Carolina’s sports betting launch, read through our Gambling 101 guides so you’re ready when the first sportsbook goes live.