Governor Says North Carolina Online Sports Betting Could Launch In Time For March Madness

Written By J.R. Duren on December 29, 2023
North Carolina Online Sports Betting March Madness

North Carolina wants a piece of March Madness betting.

That’s according to Gov. Roy Cooper, who revealed during an interview with popular North Carolina podcast O+G that his hope is for online sports betting to go live before the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments in March.

“The goal is to get [sports betting] out there before March Madness,” Cooper said. “No guarantee that that’s the case, but I think that is the goal.”

Rulemaking, compliance dominate the lead-up to launch

Cooper discussed a variety of N.C. sports topics during his interview on O+G. Midway through the podcast, co-host Joe Ovies asked about the progress of sports betting legalization.

Cooper signed sports betting into law this past June, a law that allows sports betting to launch as early as Jan. 8.

But Cooper implied that sports betting wouldn’t be ready by that date, saying that “before March Madness” is the goal.

The governor said that the state’s lawmaking body, the General Assembly, made some changes to the legislation that required the North Carolina Lottery Commission (the group overseeing sports betting) to “redo some things.” The commission finished those revisions earlier this month.

While Cooper didn’t mention any dates, he seemed to infer that sports betting could’ve launched earlier had those changes not happened.

Jan. 8 or not, Cooper said the state is going to benefit from sports betting.

“I think it will be positive for the state, our economy, jobs,” he said. “People are already doing it anyway; we might as well have the North Carolina taxpayers get some benefit from this.”

Why not turn on geofencing and launch sports betting right away?

After Cooper talked about a launch timeframe, co-host Joe Giglio mildly pressed him, asking why the state can’t just turn on a geofence (an invisible barrier that bars people not located in N.C. from placing a bet through N.C. sportsbooks) and allow sports betting immediately. He noted the inconvenience of driving to Virginia once a week to place sports bets even though he already has DraftKings and FanDuel’s sportsbook apps.

Cooper said he understood Giglio’s frustration, but noted that getting the regulations right is an important part of a successful launch.

“You gotta make sure that the rules are right, that everybody’s complying with the law, and the state is getting its right amount of revenue,” Cooper said. “It’s pretty complicated to make sure that you follow all of the law that the Generally Assembly has put in place.  They were working on it as fast as they can.”

Giglio, Cooper highlight key arguments for sports betting

While the March Madness launch date was the most important sports betting takeaway from Cooper’s appearance on O+G, two other moments were important.

Cooper notes betting is already happening

The governor told Ovies that, among other things, sports betting is already happening in the state and that the sooner North Carolina can launch sports wagering, the sooner taxpayers can benefit.

The American Gaming Association projected in late 2022 that the U.S. illegal sports betting market takes in around $64 billion in bets every year. While the AGA provided no specific numbers for North Carolina, NCSharp projects the state will bring in around $7 billion in legal bets in the first year. Based on that number, it’s possible the N.C. illegal sports betting market could be at least $1 billion (total illegal bets are typically much lower than total legal bets).

Giglio says he goes out of state to bet

An argument lawmakers often use to support sports betting legalization is that taxpayers are losing revenue to surrounding states where sports wagering is legal.

Giglio’s complaint that he has to drive to Virginia (or ask Ovies to place bets for him when Ovies is in states with legal sports betting) reinforced the lost revenue idea. Avid sports bettors will do what it takes to place a legal sports bet, even if that means driving an hour to do it.

And while it’s hard to know exactly how much revenue North Carolina loses to, say, Virginia, launching sports betting as soon as possible means sports-betting revenue dollars can stay with the Tarheel State’s taxpayers.

Photo by Michael Caterina/AP photo
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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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