Jake Caccavaro

With the North Carolina General Assembly’s passing of Senate Bill 154 on Monday and Gov. Roy Cooper signing the bill into law, sports gambling is now legal in North Carolina.

The many “North Carolina legalizes sports gambling” headlines gave sports bettors all across the state the joy and relief of no longer having to use illegal offshore sportsbooks or their shady neighborhood bookie.

The bettors’ joy was fleeting, however, when the details of the legalization emerged. The legal betting is restricted to two locations, both of which are Native American tribal casinos in the western N.C. towns of Cherokee and Murphy.

Unlike in states such as Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, no mobile betting will be allowed in the state. If one wants to place a legal sports bet in North Carolina, he or she will have to travel to Cherokee or Murphy, a roughly three- to four-hour drive from Charlotte and five- to six-hour drive from Raleigh.

The total legalization of sports betting (including mobile) has done wonders for the economies of states that have done so. Since New Jersey officially launched sports betting in June 2018, the state has seen over $3.3 billion in bets and has collected over $200 million in revenue. In Pennsylvania, which saw its first legal sports bet placed in November 2018, $244 million in bets has been placed and over $21.7 million in revenue has been collected.

Contrast that with a state in a similar situation as North Carolina, like Delaware. In the nation’s first state, sports betting is legal at just three casinos, and there is no mobile wagering option. As a result, Delaware generated just $9.3 million in sports betting revenue between when sports betting began in June 2018 and the end of 2018. 

With over 10 times the population of Delaware, it’s not likely North Carolina will bring in as little sports betting revenue as Delaware, but with the restrictions in place and the obscure locations of the two casinos, it also is a near-lock that North Carolina fails to generate a proportionally significant amount of revenue. 

The legislation does come with an interesting caveat, however. According to Action Network, the state is expected to launch a gaming commission to study the potential expansion of in-state sports betting.

While the legislation’s restrictions certainly may be disappointing to the vast majority of interested sports bettors in North Carolina, it is important to look at the legalization as what it is: the first step.

As recently as four or five months ago, North Carolina was considered an extreme longshot to pass any sports betting legislation in the near future. Once the NC Senate passed SB 154 in April, the all-important first step to statewide sports betting was taken.

As a conservative-leaning state in a region where legal sports betting is nearly nonexistent, it was never expected that North Carolina would dive headfirst into total legalization. But with the future assembly of a gaming commission, there will be plenty to learn about how legalizing sports betting will benefit the state.

Sports betting in the U.S. is a nearly $450 million industry, and North Carolina legalizing it, albeit with significant restrictions, is a great first step toward getting in on the action. It is likely the gaming commission will assess the tribal casinos’ revenue and explore how expanding upon that in the future will affect North Carolina’s economy. 

For all you passionate sports gamblers out there waiting patiently to do so legally, the light is at the end of the tunnel. The passing of SB154 was a great first step, and once the gaming commission is formed, widespread, restriction-free sports betting should be around the corner.