North Carolina is one of several states that will add legalized sports betting in 2020, joining Michigan, Illinois, and Montana that started in March and Colorado and Tennessee further down the line. Washington D.C. is also likely to begin operations in 2020.
The southern states are traditionally not hotbeds for gambling, so any progress is good progress in places like the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, and the like. Even in North Carolina, gambling is hardly commonplace. In fact, the Tar Heel state only has two casinos and both are up in the mountains in the western part of the state.
It would seem that the rich sports tradition in North Carolina played a role in this. Furthermore, the bill does allow for wagering on collegiate sports, which makes a ton of sense with UNC, Duke, NC State, Davidson, Wake Forest, the satellite campuses and so many colleges and universities in the state.
Unfortunately, access to sports betting in North Carolina is extremely limited. SB154, which passed in July 2019, did approve legalized wagering in North Carolina, but only with retail, land-based betting. That means that the only places that you can bet in North Carolina are at the Harrah’s Cherokee in Cherokee, NC and the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy.
As you would expect, both books are likely to be operated by Caesars, the parent company of Harrah’s, though we will have to see what happens going forward if the Caesars and Eldorado deal winds up going through. Caesars does also have a partnership with DraftKings to operate some of its sportsbooks, so that could be an option in North Carolina as well.
In any event, this is a little bit of a tricky setup. Aside from Asheville, most of the population centers in North Carolina like Charlotte, Winston-Salem, Raleigh and Durham are nowhere near those two Harrah’s properties. While beautiful drives on a weekend, it is fair to wonder how many people will actually make the trek to go and will spend that time in the sportsbook or in the casino with so many other adjacent outdoor activities.
The sportsbooks could contribute to the tourism industry up in the mountains, but the vast majority of North Carolinians are still unlikely to make a bet even with legalized wagering in the state.
Why North Carolina would approve this without any sort of provisions for online or mobile betting is borderline crazy, but once sports betting begins, that is something that could be revisited down the line. Casinos are relatively new in North Carolina, as gaming was only expanded in the late ‘90s to include those mountain casinos.
It is possible that gaming could be expanded and casinos and sportsbooks near population centers could come down the line, but that doesn’t seem to be happening anytime soon.