North Carolina fought long and hard against any kind of legalized gambling.
As late as 1982, its governor was quoted as being against the introduction of a state lottery. In fact, North Carolina was the very last state on the East Coast to bring forth lottery gambling to its citizens. They did so in 2005 – and by the slimmest of voting margins at that (the first ticket didn’t sell until March 2006). Even horse and dog racing remain outlawed in the state.
The only other available gambling in the state up to that point was the begrudging existence of one tribal casino. It is on Eastern Band of Cherokee lands, but is operated by Harrah’s. The Indian Gaming Regulatory Act of 1988 opened the door for many states to house casinos on reservation land, but the catch is that each tribe must negotiate an agreement (or “compact”) with their individual state governments, and the standard to which each state must agree is almost entirely up to the state government.
Traditionally conservative states like North Carolina could severely limit the allowed games and still be in compliance with the law. Indeed, until 2012, slots and electronic poker were the only games North Carolina’s government was willing to accept.
However, in 2012, the state government, in a bid to secure more funding for itself, expanded the compact with the Cherokee to allow live dealers, more types of games, and the construction of up to two more casinos in the western part of the state. This amendment has precipitated not only an expansion of the activities of the original casino, but also the construction of a new facility, which opened its doors in September 2015.
Things are going well. The tribe recently announced a $200 million expansion to the original casino. It will add hundreds of new hotel rooms and thousands of square feet of convention space.
The truth of the matter is that these two casinos feed off their proximity to Atlanta. Georgians have few options for gambling inside their state lines. Much like Atlantic City or the casinos bordering Texas, their lifeblood is dependent on legislative stubbornness nearby. And as seen with the decline of Atlantic City, legalization in neighboring states can be devastating.
However, more competition may be on the horizon.
The Catawba Nation is working to build a $600 million casino near Kings Mountain. It would draw patrons primarily from Charlotte. The tribe plans to partner with Hard Rock to bring the venue to fruition, but it still needs approval from the US government and to work out the compact with the state. So, nothing is firm yet, but the Cherokee might not be the only game in town forever.
North Carolina’s two casinos are both branded by Harrah’s. Harrah’s (as part of Caesars Entertainment) offers visitors to its website the opportunity to play several of its games for free money. Slotomania, Bingo Blitz, and Caesars Slots are all under the flag of Caesars, and each of those apps offers visitors multiple games. Additionally, North Carolina residents can take advantage of other major social casino sites, like Zynga or Double Down Casino.
Another site North Carolinians can use is the MyVegas app, MGM’s offering that allows patrons to play their way into comps, all for free – though racking up enough points to pay for anything significant takes diligence and time. Though there are not any MGM properties within state lines, North Carolina residents and visitors can still earn discounts or vouchers for hotel rooms, food, shows, and other entertainment choices through the site. These are redeemable at any MyVegas partners.
To further competition, sports betting has been implemented into the fabric of the gaming market. Gov. Roy Cooper signed S 154 into law on Friday, July 16, making North Carolina the seventh state to pass a sports betting bill this year.
For now, the bill allows the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to operate retail sports betting only at two casinos in the Appalachian Mountains. Should the Catawba Nation get a casino up and running, it’s safe to assume sports betting will be offered as well.
It’s still too early to speculate when the first wagers can be placed, but implementation should begin over the next several months. As with most states looking to make sports betting a reality, the best time to launch is prior to the start of the football season.
Below are the options land-based slots players have in North Carolina:
|Property||Location||Number of Slot Machines|
|Harrah’s Cherokee Hotel and Casino||Cherokee||3,280|
|Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino and Hotel||Murphy||1,000|
There is no legalized or regulated online gambling in North Carolina, including for online slots.
As fitfully as the state has expanded its gambling profile, it would be unreasonable to expect anything will happen on this front anytime soon. North Carolina remains a mostly conservative and anti-gambling state, at least on the legislative level. That said, there are no laws specifically banning online gambling in North Carolina.
The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians is a federally-recognized Native American tribe that resides in the western part of North Carolina.
The tribe was part of the larger Cherokee Nation, but the forced migration of many members along the Trail of Tears split the nation into the large group of Cherokee that now reside in Oklahoma and this group that remained on the reservation land.
The tribe owns the two casinos located in North Carolina. Both are located less than three hours from Atlanta. Their proximity to gambling-starved Georgians has provided an opportunity to profit, even in the face of the Great Recession. However, due to the casinos’ branding as Harrah’s properties, it would seem that the tribe is relying on an established company to manage and operate the day-to-day of its casinos.
Regardless, there is no denying that the casinos have been a boon to tribe members. Each member receives two annual payments that, on average, amount to $3,500 each. These payments are to an area of the state that has, at times, suffered 50 percent unemployment.
Most importantly, tribe children receive these same payouts from their birth. They receive the lump sum out of a trust upon their high school graduation or 21st birthday, whichever comes first. This lump sum is usually well over $100,000 – enough for young tribe members to finance their continuing education or give themselves a solid start.
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-based Gambling||Yes||Tribal gaming only|
|Sports betting||Yes||Tribal only|
|Online Gambling||No||No laws for or against, but nothing regulated by the state|
|Lottery||Yes||Last East Coast state to legalize – first ticket sold in 2006|
|Charitable or House-based Gambling||Yes||Bingo and raffles only|
|Minimum Gambling Age||18 for lottery, 21 for casinos|