North Carolina is on the precipice of legalizing and regulating sports betting. The development follows a convincing vote in the state House of Representatives held on July 15. Lawmakers in that chamber signed off on a North Carolina sports betting bill called Senate Bill 154 by a vote of 42 to 7. The bill allows the Tar Heel State’s two tribal casinos to operate onsite sportsbooks.
With the state Senate already providing its own approval of the bill by virtue of a 90 to 27 vote back in April, North Carolina’s sports betting hopes have now been sent to the desk of Governor Roy Cooper.
Cooper now has 30 days from the North Carolina sports betting bill’s passage date to decide on his executive action. Options include either signing the bill into law, exercising his veto power, or allowing it to become law without his endorsement.
Cooper is a Democrat who has used his veto pen to shoot down other bills passed by the Republican controlled Legislature, including the state’s budget proposal earlier this month. But as state senator Jim Davis (R-50) – who sponsored SB-154 and represents Cherokee County where the new sportsbooks would be built – told Legal Sports Report after legislative passage was secured, he expects widespread bipartisan support to compel Cooper’s signature:
“I expect the governor will sign the bills. They are not controversial and we have strong bipartisan support.”
If Cooper does allow SB-154 to become the law of the land, North Carolina would become the 17th state to legalize sports betting, after the U.S. Supreme Court repealed a federal ban on the industry outside of Nevada in May of last year.
Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island all launched legal sportsbooks in 2018, with Arkansas and New York joining the list in July.
Montana, Indiana, Iowa, Tennessee, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Maine, along with Washington D.C., passed legislation this year and are currently awaiting implementation.
The North Carolina sports betting bill seeks to add sports wagering to the list of Class III casino games which the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians are currently permitted to offer at a pair of Harrah’s affiliated casinos – Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel.
That distinction – between full-scale legalization of sports betting and simply expanding the offerings allowed in the state’s two tribal casinos – was integral to building bipartisan consensus among conservative legislators who have historically opposed widespread commercial gambling.
State representative Kevin Corbin (R-120) sponsored a companion bill in the House, and during a committee meeting convened before last Monday’s vote, he made it clear that SB-154 would not create a carte blanche situation for sportsbooks to spread throughout the state:
“We’re not asking you this morning to legalize sports betting and gambling in North Carolina, we’re simply asking you to add this to the list of the games that are allowed.”
To that end, the North Carolina sports betting bill would not allow online / mobile sportsbooks, nor any other land-based bet shops aside from the two Harrah’s Cherokee locations.
Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort opened in 1997, despite objections from then Governor Jim Hunt, and has become an economic boon for the tribe and the surrounding region.
Speaking to Legal Sports Report in April after the state Senate’s passage of SB-154, Davis revealed that the Cherokee tribe asked him directly to pursue sports betting legislation:
“The Eastern Band are wanting to get into sports wagering, and wagering is legal now after the Supreme Court decision of May of last year overturning PASPA. It’s a legal enterprise and they want to expand to include wagering in my district, so I consented to file the bill and don’t expect it to have any problems getting passed.”
Davis also told the gambling industry news outlet that regulated sportsbooks are expected to generate $14 million in annual revenue for the Cherokee, along with $1 million per year for the state:
“I’ve been a champion for expanding gaming opportunities for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for years. They’ve been a great economic generator for the Western region of our state, and I’m happy to play a small part in the good they do for this region.”