Sports betting is legal in North Carolina but is not yet available.
Legislation passed in 2019 will permit North Carolina’s tribal casinos to operate sportsbooks after their gaming compacts with the state are amended and regulators publish the rules that will govern sports betting.
Currently, daily fantasy sports remain the closest approximation to true online betting in North Carolina. The NC Lottery is also authorized to sell tickets to major draw games online.
Legal North Carolina Betting Sites
North Carolina Sports Betting
North Carolina legalized sports betting in July 2019 after Governor Roy Cooper signed off on Senate Bill 154.
SB 154 is fairly limited in scope as it simply categorizes sports and horse racing betting as forms of Class III gaming, which is allowed at tribal casinos. Essentially, NC sports betting law approves retail sportsbooks at two (and maybe three) casinos in particular:
- Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino in Cherokee
- Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy
- Catawba Two Kings Casino Resort in Cleveland County, a controversial casino currently under development
Online and mobile betting were not included in the bill, but even this minor advance in North Carolina bodes well in a state that has historically opposed gambling expansions of any type.
Bill co-sponsor Jim Davis urged the House to approve the bill prior to this vote with language acknowledging the lingering skepticism regarding any expansion of gambling in North Carolina:
“We’re not asking you this morning to legalize sports betting,” he said. “We’re simply asking you to add this to the list of games that are allowed [at the casinos].”
The Raleigh News & Observer reports analysts estimate legal sports betting at the two Cherokee casinos will generate $1 to $1.5 million in new revenue for the state each year.
The implementation of NC sports betting has been slower than expected. Shortly after the bill was signed into law, Harrah’s Regional VP of Marketing Brian Saunooke estimated both sportsbooks would be up and running by Fall 2019.
“By late fall, football will be in full swing,” he said at the time. “That’s an exciting time for sports bettors in general. We will be looking at other sports as well. We expect to have a full offering similar to what you would have in other markets, like Las Vegas.”
However, sports betting remains unavailable to this day. Implementation hinges on the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians amending their compact with the state and on the Catawba Nation negotiating a compact with the state for its planned casino.
Legal NC Sportsbooks
Now that NC sports betting is legal, the next step is for tribal casinos to hire staff, train employees and finish the construction of their sportsbooks. Harrah’s has confirmed both of its North Carolina locations will each launch a retail sportsbook named The Book in the near future.
The Catawba Nation is proceeding with plans to build a large casino resort just to the west of Charlotte but has not yet confirmed any plans it has for sports betting.
NC Daily Fantasy Sports
Fantasy sports sites operate in North Carolina despite a lack of clarity on the legality of DFS. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) provides an exception for DFS from federal anti-gambling laws and leave the issue up to states to decide.
In North Carolina, state law does not specifically address fantasy sports. This leaves DFS in a grey area, neither prohibited nor explicitly authorized. Lawmakers attempted to change that in 2017 with the introduction of HB 279.
The 2017 bill would have established fantasy sports regulations and required DFS operators to register with the Department of the Secretary of State. Registration fees would have been set to equal to 10% of the previous year’s revenues, but no less than $2,500 and no more than $10,000.
Before it could become law, HB 279 was shot down by lawmakers under pressure from anti-gambling groups. The North Carolina Family Policy Council called it a “massive expansion of legalized gambling” despite the fact that thousands of residents already play fantasy sports online. This killed North Carolina’s chances to legalize and regulate DFS until at least 2019.
Lawmakers tried again in 2019 with the introduction of HB 929. This bill would have established the North Carolina Gaming Commission, provided regulations for daily fantasy sports and consolidated regulations over lotteries, bingo, raffles and boxing under the new commission.
HB 929 failed in the House under pressure from anti-gambling representatives and former law enforcement officials who opposed the measure for various reasons.
Currently, fantasy sites operate in North Carolina without interference from the state. Although the industry has never been formally legalized, the state has shown no interest in pursuing action against DFS operators.
Horse Racing Betting in North Carolina
The legislation that legalized sports betting in 2019 allows North Carolina tribal casinos to offer off-track racing betting along with wagers on other sports. Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel & Casino and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River have both confirmed they will offer horse racing betting when their sportsbooks open for business.
A statewide ban on parimutuel betting remains in place across the rest of the state outside of tribal casinos. The North Carolina Thoroughbred Association is the only organization in the state devoted to promoting and advancing the horse racing industry in the state.
Although races are held in NC from time to time, trackside parimutuel wagering remains prohibited. Fans may show up, watch the races and buy food but no betting is allowed. The ban also includes simulcasting of events within the state and across state lines. This ban is the reason why all the major legal horse betting sites in the US do not accept customers from North Carolina.
Lawmakers introduced legislation to authorize parimutuel wagering in 2019, but the bill failed to pick up traction and died in committee. SB 165 would have established a licensing process for off-track wagering providers and set a minimum age of 18. The bill would have also required off-track betting operators to remit 20% of total wagering handle to the state.
North Carolina Online Lottery
North Carolina sold its first lottery ticket in 2006 and now operates a standard range of major draw games such as Powerball and Mega Millions, instant win scratch cards and keno. The NC Online Lottery sells tickets to multistate and local drawings but does not offer instant win games at this time.
State residents 18 and older can buy the following games online at NCLottery.com or through the official mobile app:
- Mega Millions
- Lucky for Life
- Cash 5
The North Carolina Lottery flirted with the idea of offering instant win games online back in 2017 but relented amid strong opposition from the NC Retail Merchants Association and anti-gaming groups such as the NC Family Policy Council.
The North Carolina Retail Merchants Association opposed the idea out of fear online sales would hurt retail sales while the Family Policy Council warned of the dangers of allowing people to play online from their mobile devices.
NC Online Gambling
Only a few states so far have legalized online poker and casinos, and North Carolina is definitely not one of those. The deck is stacked against North Carolina legalizing either industry within a reasonable time frame.
Even live poker is rare in North Carolina. It wasn’t until 2012 that the state authorized casinos to host live poker games and tournaments. Currently, Harrah’s Cherokee casinos are the only places in the entire state where players may play a game of real money poker and remain on the right side of the law.
The same applies to online gambling. State law prohibits all gambling and lawmakers have made no efforts to pass legislation to authorize online casinos or poker sites.
NC Gambling Laws
North Carolina’s gambling laws take the approach of barring everything except for what is specifically authorized. § 14-292 of the State Statutes lays it out in plain text:
Except as provided in Chapter 18C of the General Statutes or in Part 2 of this Article, any person organization that operates any game of chance or any person who plays at or bets on any game of chance at which any money, property or other thing of value is bet, whether the same be in stake or not, shall be guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor. This section shall not apply to a person who plays at or bets on any lottery game being lawfully conducted in any state.
Only two tribal casinos are authorized to operate games of chance in the state. These are the Harrah’s Cherokee in Cherokee, NC and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River in Murphy. The one located in Cherokee is the biggest of the two with a 150,000 square foot gaming area complete with video poker, slot machines, table games and poker. The resort also has a 1,108 room casino, spa, 11 restaurants, a golf club and a night lounge.
Apart from that, North Carolina doesn’t offer much in the way of betting. State Statue § 14-309.20 outlaws greyhound racing and the only horse racing tracks do not allow parimutuel wagering. The state also has no exception for home poker games.
Online gambling isn’t specifically mentioned in any of North Carolina’s gaming laws, but the broad language of the law leaves little doubt as to the legality of placing wagers with any entity not authorized to offer gambling.