Retail-Only Sports Betting Finally Kicks Off In North Carolina At Two Tribal Casinos

Openings are thanks to a 2019 state law that allowed for sports betting
Harrah's Cherokee Casino
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The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) on Thursday kicked off Las Vegas-style retail sports betting in North Carolina, giving the state of Tennessee and its five online/mobile sportsbooks a bit of competition directly to the east.

The tribe opened what it calls “The Book” at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, N.C., and also south of that at Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in Murphy. The retail spaces come through a partnership involving the EBCI, Caesars Entertainment, and William Hill.

“We are excited to offer legal sports betting at The Book, and just in time for March Madness,” Richard Sneed, principal chief of the EBCI, said 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 tribe can’t offer online/mobile betting across the state, like is available in neighboring Tennessee.

William Hill recently launched a sports betting app in Tennessee.

Long road to retail wagering

Legislation to bring retail sportsbooks to North Carolina was passed in mid-2019, a little over a year after the famous U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down a 1990s law that virtually prohibited sports betting outside of Nevada. North Carolina was one of the early states to get a bill done.

The EBCI last year said it felt “strung along” on sports betting, but it appears everything is now amicable between the state and the tribe. The COVID-19 pandemic was obviously at its worst in 2020, playing a role in retail wagering being delayed at the tribal casinos. The EBCI originally anticipated having sports betting in the late fall of 2019, well before the pandemic struck, so the delay wasn’t entirely due to the virus.

The tribe delivered a proposed amendment to its gaming compact with the state in October 2019. Gov. Roy Cooper had 180 days, under the law, to make a decision on it. The deadline fell within the height of the spring COVID-19 surge, when casinos across the U.S. had closed.

In addition to an internet-only market in Tennessee, the two EBCI retail books have competition to the north from Virginia, which legalized both retail and online/mobile. South Carolina to the south doesn’t have any form of sports betting, and the same goes for neighboring Georgia and nearby Kentucky. The two EBCI sportsbooks have a relatively strong position for bettors looking to visit a Las Vegas-style sportsbook.

Meaningful impact on the TN market?

The two retail casinos surely will draw in some Tennesseans, but the impact on the Volunteer State’s market will be negligible or minimal at worst. States with both online and retail have seen more than 90% of the handle come from the former. For a high-profile event like March Madness, retail books do have a lot of appeal, but generally bettors prefer convenience over “experience.”

It’s about a two-hour car ride from Knoxville to the larger of the two EBCI sportsbooks, good for a weekend trip but not exactly a quick trek down the road. Bettors from Tennessee basically have to do a large loop around the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to wager at the EBCI book in Cherokee. The sportsbook at the sister property in Murphy to the south is closer to the Tennessee border, but also about a two-hour drive from a major city in the Volunteer State (Chattanooga). Neither book is super accessible for Tennesseans.

The Book at Harrah’s Cherokee (credit: EBCI)

Tennessee sportsbooks handled more than $520 million in wagers collectively during November, December, and January. Month-over-month growth between December and January was 16.7%. More sportsbooks are still in the process of launching in Tennessee, which will continue to help grow the market.

There is a trick up the sleeve for at least one sportsbook in Tennessee. BetMGM and Buffalo Wild Wings sports bars have a partnership for online gambling, and while BWW can’t offer any form of retail wagering options (guests have to use their own devices) it does sort of make BWW locations into something similar to the feel of a retail sportsbook. This type of arrangement should keep some Tennesseans closer to home.

And, of course, the Tennessee apps become inoperable once someone is inside a different state, so a guest at an EBCI sportsbook doesn’t have the option of wagering on their favorite apps that are based in Tennessee. EBCI is expected to have on-site mobile betting options, but once you’re in the casino you’re more likely to wager at a betting window or kiosk.

Photo by Billy F. Blume Jr / Shutterstock.com

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