NC Tribe Closer to Offering Sports Betting after Federal OK

NC Tribe Closer to Offering Sports Betting after Federal OK
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Sports betting is one step closer in North Carolina after the federal government approved the gaming compact between the state and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs approval notice was posted Tuesday on the Federal Register. The notice takes effect Tuesday. It should lead to sports bets being placed in the two Harrah’s Casinos in Cherokee and Murphy soon and it would end a long road to the first sports wager in the state.

RELATED: More on North Carolina sports betting and gaming

The amended compact between Gov. Roy Cooper and the tribe was approved in December. The Bureau of Indian Affairs was required to advertise a 45-day public comment period before Tuesday’s approval.

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 has been delayed 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.

When the tribal council approved the amended compact, the hope was that sports betting could be operational at the casinos in time for March Madness, Ann Davis, an attorney for the Tribal Gaming Commercial Enterprise, said during the meeting, according to the Smoky Mountain News.

How quickly the casinos will be ready to accept sports bets is uncertain. When the compact agreement was announced, officials from the tribe and the casinos indicated they would be prepared to take wagers quickly after the approval came from the federal government. “The Book” sportsbooks say coming soon on the casinos’ websites.

"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," Brooks Robinson, regional senior vice president and general manager for Harrah's Cherokee, said in an email Wednesday.

In late January, the Catawba Nation, based in South Carolina, reached a compact with Cooper that would allow gaming at a casino that the tribe plans to build about 35 miles from Charlotte in Kings Mountain. The Cherokee tribe is contesting the legality of the Catawbas to build a casino in North Carolina.

The Catawbas compact is currently in the 45-day public comment period.

Could North Carolina Online Sports Betting Follow?

With the online sports betting markets in neighboring Tennessee and Virginia already thriving, North Carolina could look to join the fray. The North Carolina legislature and governor can approve and implement expanded gambling without going to a voter referendum.

There has been previous discussion in the legislature in recent years about sports gambling and in 2019 it approved the North Carolina Lottery to commission a report on the subject. It contracted with Spectrum Gaming of New Jersey to prepare the report.

The study recommended sports wagering be operated by the North Carolina Lottery online and by using the top performers in its existing retail outlet network. At the retail outlets, bettors would place wagers using self-service terminals. Lottery-run sports betting has seen numerous issues in jurisdictions like Montana, Oregon and Washington, D.C.

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