“There’s quite a bit of excitement today after the news last night that our bill passed,” Principal Chief Richard Sneed said July 16.
The bill passed 90-27 with no debate on the floor other than a statement in favor from Rep. Kevin Corbin, R-Franklin. Corbin had introduced a House version of the bill in March, though it was the Senate version — sponsored by Rep. Jim Davis, R-Franklin — that ended up passing.
“Making it legal in North Carolina is going to be of economic benefit to Western North Carolina because we put in the bill people cannot bet remotely. They can’t bet on their cell phone or their computers, so they have to physically come to Murphy or Cherokee to place bets,” Corbin told The Smoky Mountain News. “Again people come to the area to eat, sleep, buy gas, things like that, so yes it would be an economic benefit to the western part of the state, we think about $60 million.”
All legislative members representing the seven western counties voted in favor of the bill with the exception of Rep. Michele Presnell, R-Burnsville. Presnell’s district includes a portion of Haywood County.
The Senate passed the bill three months ago, in a 90-7 decision on April 9. Corbin said there was no significant opposition on the House side — it just took some time for the bill to work its way through various committees. To become law, it still needs a signature from Gov. Roy Cooper, which Cooper is expected to provide. According to Corbin, members of Cooper’s staff have said that the governor plans to sign it.
The legislation is short, occupying less than two pages. It adds sports and horse race wagering to the list of Class III gaming activities that the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians may offer on its casino properties. Sports wagering is defined as “the placing of wagers on the outcome of professional and collegiate sports” and horse race wagering is defined as “fixed odds or pari-mutuel wagering on thoroughbred, harness or other racing of horses, including simulcasting and off-track betting.”
However, the bill states that all sports and horse race wagers must be placed on Indian lands in North Carolina where Class III gaming activities are permitted — that is, on casino properties in Cherokee and Murphy. If enacted, the bill will not allow for online sports and horse race betting.
The tribe can’t move forward with plans to implement sports betting until Cooper signs the bill, but Sneed said it’s something that can be done fairly quickly, and plans already exist to convert the Strike Lounge connecting the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center and the main gaming floor into a sports betting area. He expects the offering will draw new customers to Harrah’s while also involving existing customers.
“Clearly there are people out there who are avid sports betters and who may or may not game in any other way, so I would expect to see an uptick in some new customers,” he said. “But I think there will also be, and our expectation is that there will be, players who are already members of our Total Rewards who will participate in sports betting. It’s just another amenity. There’s also the off-track betting aspect as far as the bill that just passed too, so it will be interesting to see who participates in that.”
The bill is a reaction to a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, which said that the federal government had no power to prohibit states from allowing sports betting. Instead, each state could now decide for itself if and how to permit sports betting in its jurisdiction. Lawmakers saw the Eastern Band as prime candidates to be granted this new ability.
“It’s going to enhance the gaming revenue that is available to the Eastern Band,” said Davis. “They have proven to be excellent stewards of the revenue that comes from gaming, and it will put them in a better position to diversify their portfolio to things other than gaming to continue the forward progress of the tribe.”
Sports wagering is expected to bring the tribe an additional $10 to $11 million per year and the state $1 to $1.5 million in additional tax revenue, said Davis. North Carolina’s total budget runs around $24 billion per year.