North Carolina Continues Rapid Gambling Expansion with Online Sports Betting Launch

Only four months after introducing its online lottery, North Carolina launched online sports betting. Starting today, sports bettors can place online wagers with eight licensed operators, including FanDuel, BetMGM, Bet365, Caesars, and DraftKings. This expands on the existing forms of gambling in the state, which include retail tribal casinos and—as of November—online lottery games.

North Carolina’s official sports betting launch follows a prelaunch period that began on March 1st. The prelaunch runup allowed residents to download apps, sign up, and deposit before today’s official sports betting kick-off.

Rounding out the starting lineup are Fanatics, ESPN Bet, and Underdog, which recently halted daily fantasy pick ’em-style contests in the state ahead of its sports betting debut.

This latest addition to state gambling options comes on the heels of a Nov. 15 iLottery launch. In that case, the North Carolina State Lottery Commission (NCSLC) voted in August to introduce the new eInstant games.

Revisiting North Carolina Gambling History

While North Carolina’s gambling options have expanded rapidly recently, that hasn’t always been the case.

Without diving too deep into history, gambling laws first appeared in 1749. In those early days, legislators prioritized curtailing excessive and immoderate gambling activity by invalidating gambling debts, forbidding public gambling, and limiting losses.

However, by 1784, North Carolina repealed the anti-gambling law and instituted taxes on card decks and dice to raise funds for government coffers. In the years following, lotteries emerged as a fundraising tool. Between 1809 and 1835, North Carolina’s legislature authorized 62 lotteries before banning them again after widespread pushback.

In 1945, North Carolina began legalizing bingo, county to county, with charitable raffles joining the mix in 1977. Then, in 1979, it replaced its patchwork system with a statewide law allowing non-profits to operate raffles and bingos. In 1983, the regulator started requiring the licensing of all charitable bingo operators.

However, the year prior, following a federal ruling exempting Indian reservations from limits on state bingo prizes, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) established its high-stakes bingo games.

Emergence of Tribal Casinos and (Re)Birth of the State Lottery

In 1994, Governor Jim Hunt and EBCI executed a compact under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), allowing the construction of a casino.

Harrah’s Cherokee opened in 1997, with Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River following in 2015. A new compact signed by Governor Beverley Purdue in 2012 ensured tribal casinos could add table games.

A third Indian casino, Catawba Two Kings Casino, run by the Catawba Indian Nation, opened in 2021.

Notably, the state tried to authorize four new commercial casinos in 2023, but the effort failed in the General Assembly.

The lottery reemerged in North Carolina in March 2006, with the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) initially offering only scratch-off tickets.

However, two months later, the state joined Powerball, a multi-state lottery game with massive jackpot opportunities. North Carolina also introduced state lottery games, including Carolina Pick 3 and Carolina Cash 5 offerings. Four years later, the NCSLC decided to bring Mega Millions, another cross-jurisdictional game, to players in the state.

New and Old Frontiers

Notably, sports betting in North Carolina, unlike other forms of gambling, has evolved faster.

In July 2019, following the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), North Carolina passed a law permitting amendments to tribal compacts to allow for the addition of retail sportsbooks. The ECBI’s Harrah’s properties were the first to open sportsbooks in 2021, though the Catawba Nation followed with their own in 2022.

While efforts to legalize online sports betting hit a few snags along the way, by June 2023, the state passed sports betting legislation. In addition to adding eight new retail sportsbooks, the new law authorized online sports betting, setting the stage for today’s online sports betting launch.

However, at the same time, as North Carolina is expanding gambling in some forms, it’s attempting to corral illegal and gray market offerings.

State Challenges Sweepstakes Operators

Years ago, video poker machines were plentiful in North Carolina. However, a legislative back-and-forth finally succeeded in banning the games in 2007. Since the ban, sweepstakes or skill games parlors, which operate in a gray legal area, have filled the empty space—to the frustration of lawmakers.

In 2010, the General Assembly outlawed video sweepstakes with an “entertaining display.” However, a legal challenge by the skill games industry ensured the ban didn’t go into effect until 2013.

Even then, instead of closing up shop, some operators decided to comply by instituting “pre-reveal,” which reveals the prize before play starts.

Recently, a ruling by the NC Court of Appeals dealt a blow to the skill gaming industry when it overturned a trial court injunction barring law enforcement from criminally charging BST USA and Victory Vending Co. for allegedly operating illegal gambling machines.

For their part, BST (a kiosk nufacturer) and Victory (a kiosk operator) have asserted their skill-based games comply with the state laws.

However, in January, the case ended when BST and Victory dropped their lawsuit against the state, Gov. Roy Cooper, and state law enforcement officials.

What that means

Could Online Casinos be Next for North Carolina?

Invariably, every time a state legalizes online sports betting, it raises questions about what might follow.

Whether or not North Carolina ultimately legalizes online casinos, too, the arrival of mobile sports betting increases the likelihood that iGaming will become part of the conversation.

As Bonus’ managing editor, Alex Weldon, wrote recently, North Carolina is well-poised to turn its attention to online casinos in the coming years. However, he also makes it clear that if and when they do, passing online casino legislation will still likely be a challenge.

We should not expect that North Carolina is going to pass an online casino bill immediately in 2025. However, it is fairly likely that the idea will come up for discussion soon. If that doesn’t happen in 2025, then it probably will within a few years.

But getting from there to passing a bill has proven to be a slow and difficult process elsewhere. It’s unlikely to be much easier in North Carolina.

About the Author

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil

Robyn McNeil (she/they) is a Nova Scotia-based writer and editor, and a lead writer at Bonus. Here she focuses on news relevant to online casinos, while specializing in responsible gambling coverage, legislative developments, gambling regulations, and industry-related legal fights.
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