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North Carolina Gambling Laws and Online Options

North Carolina

Traditionally, North Carolina has held fairly conservative stances when it comes to gambling. There is still only a very limited amount of casino gaming here, and it was one of the most recent states to establish a lottery. All the while, lawmakers have been fighting battles against those who have tried to find “creative” ways to get around gambling laws through the establishment of sweepstakes cafes and other venues.

One area where there is little fight, however, is in the world of online casinos. There has been no serious consideration of the issue so far, meaning that players living here won’t be able to play on state-regulated sites anytime soon, meaning we have to play with foreign casino operators for the foreseeable future.

Conservative Approach Shapes Landscape

The modern effort to bring gambling to the state of North Carolina began in the 1940s. That’s when charitable organizations in some areas were allowed to start offering bingo for fundraising purposes. Laws like these began to pop up all over the state over the next few decades, with a mish-mash of cities, counties, and other municipalities having different rules for their operation. That confusion was resolved in 1979, when a statewide law finally authorized both bingo and raffles across the state.

In more recent years, efforts to regulate gambling have been somewhat more contentious. Take, for instance, the introduction of regulations on video poker machines. Passed in the year 2000, the rules allowed only three machines per venue (before this, they had become rather widespread with little oversight), and prevented any new games from being installed.

In 2006, with tens of thousands of illegal machines still operating here, the State Senate began attempts to ban the game outright. However, they met unexpected opposition in the House, where Speaker Jim Black continuously stopped these efforts. He eventually relented, though, under rather appropriate circumstances: Black had been tied to investigations into the video poker industry. The games were then phased out over the next year, with a complete ban existing since 2007.

Since then, the state has had to deal with some locations that have tried to work around the new rules on video poker. Usually known as “sweepstakes parlors,” these operations offered games that were ostensibly only rewards for buying phone cards or time on the Internet, but the vast majority of customers were only there to play the games themselves. A series of legal challenges took place between a new law, passed in 2010, and when a ban was finally put into place in 2013.

Even getting a lottery introduced into the state proved to be very challenging here. By the early years of the 21st century, North Carolina was the only state on the East Coast without a lottery, with both conservative Republicans and some progressive Democrats blocking efforts to put one into place.

But lottery proponents had a plan, and with two known Senate opponents unavailable to vote on August 30, 2005, they called for a vote on the issue. The result was a 24-24 tie, with Lieutenant Governor Bev Perdue casting the tiebreaking vote in favor of establishing the lottery. Since that time, the lottery has offered scratch card games and drawings throughout the state, and has also participated in major interstate drawings like Mega Millions and Powerball.

The most significant expansion of gambling in North Carolina has come from the only federally recognized tribe within its borders: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. In 1994, the Cherokee negotiated a compact with the state government that allowed for some electronic games to join an already existing bingo hall. Further compacts allowed table games to be offered starting in 2012. Today, the tribe operates two casinos in the state: Harrah’s Cherokee, and the Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River, which opened in late 2015.

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Online Gambling Not Regulated

At the moment, there is no regulation of online gambling in North Carolina. This is hardly surprising, given the overall climate towards gaming in the state. There has been no strong effort to put a licensing system into place here, and consequentially, there haven’t been any major debates among lawmakers about the issue.

Still, none of this means that you can’t play at online casinos in North Carolina. Many foreign operators accept North Carolinians players. There are also no laws criminalizing playing in these games, so people living here are free to play real money slots, table games, and more on a variety of trusted sites.

Competition Could Drive Change

Given our traditional stance, it seems unlikely that Internet gaming (at least in any regulated form) will be coming to North Carolina in the near future. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few issues that could impact the land-based industry over the next few years.

For one, there are still battles brewing over the sweepstakes cafes that operate in various locations. While several states have had trouble ridding themselves of these businesses, North Carolina may have had the most difficult time ending their operations. In 2015, more locations were raided, and several companies finally agreed to end their efforts to run games. But still more operators are hanging on, banking on slight rule changes or other technicalities to keep themselves alive. In December 2015, several more businesses received cease and desist letters warning of consequences if they did not shut down their sweepstakes cafes in the next 30 days.

Among more legitimate gambling operations, there is a close eye being paid to increasing regional competition, even if it hasn’t quite hit the state borders yet. Expansion in Delaware and Maryland could eventually prompt similar efforts in Virginia, for instance, while Georgia’s sudden interest in bringing massive resorts to the state (particularly in Atlanta) could trigger South Carolina to respond. Such a domino effect has the potential to drag North Carolina into the arms race as well – though it is likely at least a few years before we start seeing pressure building here.

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