Interest in sports betting is peaking as the NBA Finals, Major League Baseball Playoffs, NFL, and NCAA football take place simultaneously for the first time, but North Carolina tribal casinos are still waiting to take their first legal sports bet.
It has been more than a year since North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a bill authorizing the two Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ casinos to operate retail sportsbooks.
All Cooper needed to do next was add sports betting to the games available to the tribe in its compact. That seemed easy enough.
But more than a year later, Cooper and tribal leadership still haven’t reached an agreement on the amended compact.
Rep. Kevin Corbin, who sponsored the bill, spoke with PlayTenn about the reasons for the delay.
State seeks restrictions on sports betting operations
Corbin, whose district includes the Cherokee casinos, has also sought answers as to why the casinos haven’t yet gotten the expected boost from sports betting.
“I hear it is his legal staff wanting to put more restrictions on the Eastern Band and how they have to report the operation,” Corbin said. “There was just a lot of stuff and restrictions they wanted to put on them that the Eastern Band has resisted.”
Corbin described one such ask as requiring the tribe to pay for a State Bureau of Investigation officer to monitor the sportsbook in person.
Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed declined to speak of specifics regarding negotiations. He provided the following statement when contacted by PlayTenn:
“Negotiations between two sovereign entities can sometimes take a little time to work through and strike the right balance. But we know Gov. Cooper respects our sovereignty and is committed to getting a deal done. We are confident that our experts have fully addressed any concerns that his counsel has raised and look forward to working directly with the governor to finalize an agreement soon.”
State waiting on Cherokee to come to terms
Corbin described the delay as the governor dragging his feet.
However, from the governor’s perspective, the compact amendment is in the tribe’s court.
Dory MacMillan, press secretary for Gov. Cooper, provided the following statement:
“The state provided the tribe with a proposed compact amendment in January and has had numerous meetings with the tribe since. The negotiations are ongoing and will hopefully be completed soon.”
North Carolina tribal casinos ready with sportsbooks
At least the governor and tribal chief seem to agree in their hope that compact negotiations will be done soon.
Harrah’s operates the two tribal casinos in North Carolina. Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort is in Cherokee, NC, while the smaller Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River is in Murphy.
The resort property draws many patrons from Knoxville, the closest major metro area at about a two-hour drive away.
Brooks Robinson, CEO of Harrah’s Cherokee, said the sportsbooks will be ready to open soon after the compact is signed.
He believes the state and tribe dealing with impacts from the coronavirus added to the delay.
“It would have been nice to have the sportsbook open for the NFL season for sure. I know the tribe and governor’s office continue to have discussions and feel confident that they’ll eventually get resolution to any concerns each party may have. Once it gets approval, I look forward to being able to offer sports betting at the casino. It will be a nice amenity for our customers.”