Sports Betting Launches — In Timid Fashion — In North Carolina

There's no mobile option — just retail betting a long road trip from the major college campuses
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Operators of the two Harrah’s casinos in North Carolina — the only such legal gambling venues in the state — on Wednesday announced the casinos will be welcoming sports betting customers on Thursday immediately after a ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We are excited to offer legal sports betting at ‘The Book,’ and just in time for March Madness,” said Richard Sneed, principal chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, in a statement. “We would like to thank our partners at William Hill and Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos, as well as members of the state, for making this opening possible.”

The sportsbooks at the casinos in Cherokee and Murphy follow a typical Harrah’s setup, even with the name “The Book.” They are the culmination of a partnership among the The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI), Caesars Entertainment, and William Hill, the sportsbook operator acquired by Caesars in 2020.

This is good news for fans of the University of North Carolina, Appalachian State, and UNC-Greensboro — each of which is among the 68 teams chosen in the men’s bracket.

But the shortest trek fans would be making from any of those campuses is 135 miles from Appalachian State to the Harrah’s casino in Cherokee. The trip for UNC fans to that site would be twice as far, and UNC-Greensboro to Cherokee is 220 miles.

The other tribal casino in the state, in Murphy, is another 60 miles or so farther away from each campus.

With no mobile sports betting approved in the state, it doesn’t seem likely that a significant part of those fan bases will make road trips of five to 10 hours just to place a legal bet.

In Cherokee there’s a 90-foot-wide main television, numerous other TVs, reclining chair viewing areas with USB charging ports, betting kiosks, and — perhaps even more appealing during a pandemic — a “raised VIP seating zone” and three “Fan Caves” similar to the one at the former Bally’s sportsbook in Atlantic City (which is now run by the adjacent Caesars casino since Bally’s was sold by Caesars Entertainment last year).

More sports betting to come in NC

For future March Madnesses, many North Carolinians will have a far more practical way to bet the games legally.

In January, the Catawba Nation signed a compact with the state to allow for a “Vegas-style” casino, including sports betting, at Kings Mountain.

That casino will only be about 30 miles west of Charlotte, the largest city in the state, with nearly 1 million residents.

There are plans for a “soft opening” of some sort at Kings Mountain later this year, so perhaps there will be full-fledged Madness there in spring 2022.

But for those in the large Raleigh-Durham region, Kings Mountain is at least 150 miles away — borderline impractical for a day trip. That’s why there could be a push among state lawmakers for mobile sports wagering as awareness presumably grows of the popularity of that betting in states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

The tribal casino in Murphy is near the eastern Tennessee and northern Georgia borders, so it could draw from the latter state. But it’s 200-plus miles from residents of Atlanta and its suburbs, so the perk of sports betting might be one more reason for those residents to spend a few days over the border in North Carolina.

As for Tennessee, residents already have a host of mobile sports betting options, so there’s no need for those residents to go to either Harrah’s casino in North Carolina solely for that reason.

Photo by Shutterstock

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