NC Tribe Hopes Sports Betting Launches for March Madness

NC Tribe Hopes Sports Betting Launches for March Madness
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North Carolina could take its first legal sports bet in time for March Madness.

Principal Chief Richard Sneed of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians said in a statement that final steps are being taken with regulators before the NCAA Tournament — one of the biggest sports betting events of the year begins in mid-March. The two Harrah’s Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy by law are the only places in the state where you can put down bets.

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“We are excited to begin implementing sports betting at our gaming properties in the immediate future,” Sneed said in a statement emailed to on Thursday. “We are down to the last few steps with regulators and are hopeful that the process will conclude in time for March Madness.

”COVID-19 has negatively impacted funding for critical community services within our Nation and this new diverse revenue stream is a positive step toward a more stable and secure future for our Tribal members and government operations.”

“The Book” sportsbooks at the Harrah’s Casinos will be ready to accept wagers when the final approval is in place, according to Brooks Robinson, regional senior vice president and general manager for Harrah's Cherokee.

"While almost all of the major milestones to sports betting have been achieved, a few still remain. We currently do not have a defined date for opening, but are prepared to open The Book at Cherokee and Murphy as soon as final approvals are received," Robinson said in an email this week.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs approved the compact between the state and the Cherokee tribe on Tuesday. The notice was posted on the Federal Register and took effect Tuesday.

The amended compact between Gov. Roy Cooper and the tribe was agreed upon in early December. The Bureau of Indian Affairs had to advertise a 45-day public comment period before this week’s approval.

A Long Road to the First Legal Sports Bet

The sports betting bill was passed on July 16, 2019, by the North Carolina General Assembly and signed into law by Cooper later that month, making in-person wagering legal at the two tribal casinos. The law limits sports wagering only to the tribal casinos.

The process was delayed for more than a year while an amendment to the gaming compact was worked out between the tribe and the state. The coronavirus pandemic has been cited as one reason for the delay, according to published reports.

Online sports betting markets are now live and thriving in neighboring Tennessee and Virginia. North Carolina could look to join those states. The North Carolina legislature and governor can approve and implement expanded gambling without going to a voter referendum.

Sports betting supporters in North Carolina expect some legislative movement soon. By mid-to-late June there could be an answer on the likelihood of expanded sports wagering in North Carolina in 2021.

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