History of gambling in North Carolina
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.