North Carolina Online Sports Betting Launches Later This Month—Are Online Casinos in the State’s Future?

North Carolina legalized online sports betting last year and will become the latest US state to launch its market on March 11. Over half of states now have legal mobile betting, with North Carolina poised to become the 30th, following Vermont in January. A further eight states have retail sportsbooks but no app-based gambling. North Carolina lacks legal online casinos for now, but the arrival of mobile sports betting makes it likely that iGaming will enter the conversation soon.

North Carolina lawmakers had made it possible for the market to launch as early as Jan. 8, potentially. However, the regulatory process took some time, and it was quickly apparent that betting wouldn’t start at the earliest possible moment. The sports betting bill gave the regulator until June 15, 2024—one year from its effective date—to authorize a launch. So, March 11 is a reasonably good result, coming a bit before the midway point of the potential launch window.

Seven operators are expected to launch when the market opens, including the US market leaders: DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetMGMTwo more are still waiting to have their licenses approved.

Our friends at Legal Sports Report have prepared a pre-launch guide to North Carolina online sports betting with everything state residents need to know for the big day.

Caesars Sportsbook has already begun taking mobile bets, but only ones placed by a patron at one of its Harrah’s Cherokee casinos.

Could North Carolina Consider Online Casinos?

With any mobile sports betting launch come questions about whether other forms of online gambling will follow. Sports betting legalization swept the nation from 2018 onward. Many expected that a similar wave of iGaming expansion would come close behind.

So far, that online casino wave hasn’t manifested. A few states—Pennsylvania, Michigan, West Virginia, and Connecticut—legalized both products simultaneously or in rapid succession. However, to date, Rhode Island is the only one to have introduced sports betting first, then legalized online casino games in a subsequent year. Coincidentally, its market also launches today.

Still, North Carolina is in a position where an iGaming discussion isn’t out of the question. The factors that all current legal markets for online casinos have in common are that they have pre-existing retail casino gaming and are in geographic proximity to one another.

North Carolina has three tribal casinos. Two are owned by the Cherokee Tribe, and the third was opened by the Catawba Tribe in 2021.

None of North Carolina’s immediate neighbors have online casinos. However, it is not far down the coast from the main cluster of legal states, comprising New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Delaware, and West Virginia. Maryland, also adjacent to those states, offers perhaps the best chance to see an iGaming bill pass this year.

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.

NC Sports Betting Model Doesn’t Support iGaming

North Carolina has one additional complication. Its approach to sportsbook licensing doesn’t appear extensible to online casinos.

When New Jersey opened the first multi-operator US online casino market in 2013, it pioneered the online-retail partnership model. Many other states have since followed suit. Atlantic City’s retail casinos didn’t want to lose business to out-of-state or online-only competitors. So, lawmakers proposed that every online operator in the state would be tethered to one of the retail properties. The retail casino owners could then negotiate a share of any revenue produced by their online partners.

North Carolina online sports betting works along similar lines, but the land-based partners aren’t casinos. Thanks to a late change in the state’s law, every North Carolina mobile sports betting operator needs a written agreement with a professional sports organization. These include the state’s NFL, NBA, NHL, MLS, and NWSL teams, its speedways, and two country clubs affiliated with the PGA.

Native American tribes are extremely protective of their exclusivity over gaming where they have it. For an online casino bill to stand a chance, the partnerships would need to be with the Cherokee and Catawba tribes.

That’s not an insurmountable obstacle, but it does mean an iGaming effort would start from scratch.

Another layer of the problem is that there are many more of these sports organizations than there are casinos—11 vs. three, at the moment. We’ve seen in other states that online sportsbooks without casino gaming tend to fare very poorly where they need to compete with competitors offering both verticals. Any operator believing that it would be cut out of an iGaming market would become an opponent of the effort. To avoid that scenario, any law would need to allow at least six partnerships per tribe or four per retail property.

About the Author

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon

Alex Weldon is an online gambling industry analyst with nearly ten years of experience. He currently serves as Casino News Managing Editor for Bonus.com, part of the Catena Media Network. Other gambling news sites he has contributed to include PlayUSA and Online Poker Report, and his writing has been cited in The Atlantic.
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