The U.S. Supreme Court ruled last month states can legalize and regulate sports betting. Every state is now faced with the question: Will we take advantage?
If you’re hoping for casinos on the streets of Charlotte, I don’t think the odds are very good. Chances are that North Carolina will pass on sports gambling — except in one specific potential scenario.
North Carolina has a weird relationship with gambling and vice.
The state does have an officially sanctioned lottery, but it only managed to get approved under a bizarre set of circumstances.
After all, North Carolina is still in the Bible Belt, and gambling is looked down upon in many quarters. Among progressives, lotteries are also looked at as regressive taxes on the poor.
In 2005, then-Gov. Mike Easley and Democratic leaders in the Senate were short one vote to get the lottery passed. They closed the legislative session for the year and sent everyone home. Then they called an emergency session, rushed their people back, and pushed the bill through while a few voting members were absent.
Other vices have fared worse.
The state has continually cracked down on the video poker industry under both Democratic and Republican administrations since 2006, passing new laws to squash them whenever minor tweaks bring them back.
Lawmakers have occasionally discussed privatizing alcohol sales, but nothing has happened. And there has been absolutely no momentum toward legalizing marijuana in the state, even for medical use.
The only reason North Carolina could get into sports betting? $$$
The Center for Gaming Research at the UNLV thinks that North Carolina will legalize sports betting within five years, though the state wouldn’t be part of the first wave.
They don’t explain their reasoning, but there’s only one that makes sense: Money.
The General Assembly, now controlled by Republicans, has shifted its stance on the state lottery. They are now looking at ways to expand it, with new games, more marketing dollars and an online version.
Sports betting would provide more revenue at a time when the state wants to continue to cut the personal income tax. That could be attractive.
If it happens, here’s how I see sports betting rolling out.
You’ll remember that North Carolina does have a casino: the Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort on tribal land belonging to the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians in the western part of the state.
Federal law authorizes American Indian tribes to sponsor gambling provided that their home state says it’s OK.
Over time, North Carolina has slowly and grudgingly allowed the Cherokee to host more and more types of gaming. Table games were only allowed starting in 2012.
Today, they have slot machines, blackjack, poker, roulette and craps — but no sports betting or live keno.
Expect Harrah’s to push hard for sports betting. I could see the state legislature allowing it there — and only there — in a few years.
If you’re looking at opening a betting house, don’t get your hopes up.
Cover photo by Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort via Facebook.