North Carolina Governor Approves Sports Betting in Tribal Compact Amendment

Harrah’s Cherokee sportsbooks closer to reality

The stop-start legal process behind bringing sports betting to Harrah’s Cherokee casinos is finally on the move again after North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper approved a required amendment to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ gaming compact.

The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians’ Tribal Council approved the amended compact late last week, an act those attending welcomed with “enthusiastic applause.”

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort tweeted the news on December 3, adding that it couldn’t wait to welcome people to its sportsbooks.

Construction of The Book is currently underway at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort in Cherokee, North Carolina, and at its sister property, Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino, in Murphy, North Carolina.

Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort stands on the site of the former Frontier Land Amusement Park on the Qualla Boundary. It and its sister resort in Murphy are both owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and operated by Caesars Entertainment.

Closer, just not there yet

While the amended compact is good news for the tribe and sports bettors in North Carolina, there is still a ways to go. The compact now needs signatures from the governor, secretary of state, and attorney general. Only then can it go to the US Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Indian Affairs, according to a report in the Smoky Mountain News, a free weekly newspaper based in Waynesville, North Carolina.

It represents just another legal requirement in the circuitous route to realizing sports betting at the tribe’s two casinos. As far back as July 2019, the North Carolina General Assembly passed Senate Bill 154, allowing the tribe to open retail sportsbooks. Instead of an expected late fall 2019 launch, the tribe’s gaming compact first needed an amendment.

The tribe delivered the proposed amendment to the governor’s office in October 2019, with state law giving Cooper until April 2020 to approve or reject the compact. The deadline passed, however, and according to Smoky Mountain News, the governor’s office did not respond to emails requesting clarity for the hold-up.

we were just kind of strung along with this for a year”

Last week, Principal Chief of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, Richard Sneed, said of the delay: “I feel like we were just kind of strung along with this for a year, and there was really no need for it. But thankfully it’s done.”

Launch hoped by Super Bowl

Online sports betting is not yet legal in the Tarheel State. While there are currently no retail sportsbooks operating in North Carolina, the passing of Senate Bill 154 allows the Cherokee to offer betting on sports and horse racing at its two Harrah’s casinos. That is, once the tribe’s gaming compact document gets all the right signatures and arrives at the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.

Then, in order for the document to go into effect, it requires the federal government office to first advertise a 45-day public comment period.

Albert Rose, Birdtown Tribal Council representative for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, asked the question on all North Carolinian sports bettors’ lips:

when will we be able to do the sports betting? When will it activate at the casino?”

Ann Davis, attorney for the Tribal Gaming Commercial Enterprise, answered that she hoped sports wagering would go live by the end of January, in time for the Super Bowl. Asking if the green light would be given before March Madness, Davis told Rose: “Absolutely — if we have a March Madness.”

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