North Carolina casino legalization push hits roadblocks

North Carolina casino expansion drive hits roadblocks
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North Carolina’s new online sports betting market seems to be in rough health already, but it looks even moreunlikely that legalized gaming will be further expanded this year.

As discussions continue over the potential of extending casino gambling in the province, the state’s House Speaker Tim Moore has suggested that last year’s impasse in the legislature is likely to stymie any progress in 2024.

After members of the Republican party pushed back against the efforts to legalize commercial casino gambling in the Tar Heel State last year, including a proposal to install video lottery terminals in sites such as restaurants and bars, Moore said this week that gaming is the only issue holding up the state’s budget.

“I do think that the conversation last year as it related to casinos has put a shadow over the discussion about updates to the lottery with VLTs and so forth,” Moore told local news outlet CBS 17.

Moore had initially backed Senate President pro tempore Phil Berger in his bid to add a casino amendment to the state’s 2023-25 budget bill last fall. That measure would have created gaming licenses for several counties in North Carolina.

Berger’s addition to the bill would have given multiple casino licenses to one company, The Cordish Companies, which runs Live!-branded casinos in Maryland and Pennsylvania. Berger had argued that the casinos would have kept legal gambling revenue in North Carolina and prevented it from leaking into nearby states such as Virginia. Estimates have suggested that legalizing VLTs could generate about $1 billion in annual revenue for the state.

But Moore said that “hard feelings” after last year’s debate of the issue means support is dwindling.

Although public opinion is on board with casinos coming to the state, House Republicans were split on the issue. A primary concern from opponents was that the discussion appeared to be happening behind closed doors without public input. Moore has withdrawn his support for Berger’s casino bill.

After it failed to garner mass support, Berger ultimately relented in his efforts and said in February that he would not try to push through casino legislation again this year, instead leaving it up to the judgment of the House. “If there are folks who decide it’s something they want to pick up and move with, we’ll see,” he said at the time. He added last month that talks were not making progress. The North Carolina legislative session doesn’t end until July but forward movement now seems unlikely.

Online sports betting takes hold in North Carolina

While this is going on, North Carolina’s nascent online sports betting market is off to a strong start.

After mobile sports wagering began in March, the latest data provided by the North Carolina State Lottery Commission last week suggested that players in the state have already placed over $1.3 billion in bets. In April, the first full month, operators reported a total handle of nearly $650 million, similar to the $659 million taken in March, and $105 million in gross gaming revenue.

With promotional bets taken into account, the market is up month-over-month. In March amid the launch, operators gave out over $200 million in bonus bets and promotions. That was down to below $80 million in April.

The state’s sportsbooks generated $105.3 million in gross wagering revenue in April, and so far they have netted $171.7 million in revenue since launch.

The likes of bet365, BetMGM, DraftKings, ESPN Bet, Fanatics Sportsbook and FanDuel are all live in North Carolina, each partnered with a pro sports team or venue in accordance with state regulations. Caesars Sportsbook is also operational in the state through a partnership with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.