The U.S. Supreme Court has just ruled that states can legalize and regulate sports betting. Will North Carolina take advantage?

I don’t think the odds are very good — except in one specific scenario.

North Carolina has a weird relationship with gambling and vice.

The state does have an officially sanctioned lottery1, but it only managed to get approved under a bizarre set of circumstances.

In 2005, the Democratic Party controlled the General Assembly. Senate leaders Tony Rand and Marc Basnight were firmly in support of creating a state lottery to increase funding for public schools. Republicans were against the proposal, and so were a fair number of people

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.

Gov. Mike Easley, Rand and Basnight 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 through2

Other vice-related topics 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.

There was an odd debate last year over whether to allow nonprofits to host “casino nights” for charity. It ended up passing, but nobody can win cash.

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 vice with support in North Carolina is smoking. The state’s cigarette tax is one of the lowest in the nation. Given the state’s tobacco history, that makes a lot of sense.

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There is one reason why 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 I have the 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 cut the personal income tax. That could be attractive.

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.


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