Back in September, yet another sports betting facility opened in North Carolina, much to the delight of gambling enthusiasts. "Could this be a precursor to legal online sports betting," they wondered?
Well, they got their answers, without officially getting an answer. And that answer is a big, fat "No."
Indeed, no policymaker has come right out and said online sports betting in North Carolina will not be legalized in the next year. But that's because they don't need to. The results from the Nov. 8 election speak for themselves—and they're very loud.
The message they're sending? Don't expect North Carolina to legalize online sports betting anytime soon.
North Carolina Election Results Loom as a Blow to Online Sports Betting
Optimism surrounding online sports betting in North Carolina started bubbling to the surface this past fall. That was when the state opened another sports betting facility, marking their third one overall.
This seems like a small accomplishment on its face. States that legalize on-site sports betting are inherently invested in opening more sportsbooks. It's simple math. But North Carolina showed more of an inclination than many expected when it came to making the most out of their on-site betting laws. A large subset of people didn't think they would ultimately allow unfinished casinos to open up temporary sportsbooks. But that's exactly what they have done.
With so many policymakers seemingly impressed by the early returns from legal on-site sports betting, the hope became that online wagering would top the docket at the next legislative sessions. But that hope came crashing down when North Carolina once again voted in some ultra-conversative Republicans on Election Day. Representative Ted Budd was perhaps the most telltale of all the decisions, because of how extremely conservative his views tilt. Consider the following excerpt from Ursula Perano of the Daily Beast that published right after the elections results were made official:
"Budd entered Election Day a solid favorite, but Democrats held out hope for a surprise. Ultimately, however, the election current was too much for Beasley. Budd was endorsed by former President Donald Trump in the state’s contentious Republican primary but has since run a remarkably low-key campaign. After the primary, Budd notably distanced himself from Trumpian politics, but still ran a heavily conservative campaign on abortion, crime, and the economy. That approach could be significantly different from North Carolina’s most recent Republican senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr, who’ve struck a more moderate tone in representing the state. Tillis in recent years emerged as a bipartisan dealmaker, while Burr, who is retiring after this term, voted to convict Trump during the second impeachment trial."
Increasingly moderate Republicans represented a stark shift for North Carolina politics. The state has historically favored those with stubborn right-wing views—devout Christians, predominantly, who don't believe in widespread legal sports betting. The installment of on-site wagering was seen as a harbinger of more liberal leanings. Some polls even had Budd's challenger, Cheri Beasley, projected to win the seat. But Budd ended up emerging victorious rather handedly, and he is not expected to help push for North Carolina online sports betting to be a primary talking point over the next couple of years.
North Carolina Online Sports Betting Faces Another Major Obstacle
Republican politics aren't the only thing holding back North Carolina from joining the states that have legalized online sports betting. The impact this decision will have on tribal operations also looms.
As of now, all three of the brick-and-mortar sportsbooks in North Carolina are run by federally recognized tribes. Opening the market to retail sportsbooks who operate outside the state and have a larger reach is seen as detrimental to the casino business model. Select states have addressed this by insisting corporate sportsbooks partner up with at least one tribal casino to run their online operations, but that concession has been met with relative disdain by tribes and state policymakers.
To wit: North Carolina actually introduced a bill in the House of Representatives this past winter that would have legalized online sports betting. Though it garnered a fair share of supporters, it inevitably fell through and failed to make it up to the Senate floor.
In the end, lawmakers seemed genuinely concerned about preserving as much in-state revenue as possible. And while they know that prohibiting online sports betting won't actually stop it, they don't want to do anything that will ultimately jeopardize the viability of tribal casinos—a handful of which haven't even officially opened yet.
Will Online Sports Betting Ever Arrive in North Carolina?
Look, the door for online sports betting is already open in North Carolina. They made sure of that by allowing on-site sports betting. That shows some semblance of flexibility.
However, it will likely take time for them to switch up the terms of their current gaming structure. Not only is on-site sports betting still in its infancy, but the House of Representatives is now loaded with people who will most likely block all online sports betting legislation through 2024.
Residents in North Carolina are not without options in the meantime. They will soon have more on-site betting businesses at their disposal. And if they don't live near any of the state's casinos, they can always sign up with one of the sites that appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks.
Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is for certain: Waiting for North Carolina to green light online sports betting is no longer a sustainable course of action. Given how the 2022 elections unfolded, it'll be a minor miracle if the state pushes through another sports betting initiative before 2026.
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