By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
New legislation in the North Carolina Senate could bring sports wagering to tribal lands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI). State Sen. Jim Davis introduced S.B. 154 Authorize Sports Wagering on Tribal Lands on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and the bill aims to simply amend G.S. 14-292.2 to include sports wagering as a Class III game that “may lawfully be conducted”.
Per the legislation, sports wagering is defined as, “The placing of wagers on the outcomes of professional and collegiate sports contests.”
States and federally recognized American Indian tribes received the go-ahead to operate sports betting enterprises following a 6-3 Supreme Court decision in May 2018 in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association which was combined from a separate petition, NJ Thoroughbred Horsemen v. NCAA.
“The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has been working with the leadership within Harrah’s and Caesars regarding an opportunity to expand our gaming offerings on the Qualla Boundary,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. “Sports Betting is an emerging market across the country and is within the purview of the EBCI provided some changes to the existing legislation governing EBCI gaming are made. I have been working with friends of the EBCI in Raleigh regarding expanding our gaming offerings and finalized this work with a reception in Raleigh for several North Carolina legislators. This reception was well attended, with several Congressmen and Senators pledging their support of upcoming legislation.”
He added, “This legislation would open the door for Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Valley River Casino & Hotel to offer Sports Betting within their establishments. Sports Betting would create a new clientele for the Casinos and create a new revenue stream for Cherokee. I, along with several members of Tribal Council, have fought hard to upgrade the EBCI gaming offerings on the Qualla Boundary. As Principal Chief, I consider it an honor to work for you on this issue as I am always looking for opportunities to improve the quality of life for our enrolled members. I look forward to updating the community as this initiative progresses.”
Brooks Robinson, Harrah’s Cherokee regional senior vice president and general manager, commented to the One Feather last May, “We, at Harrah’s Cherokee, are obviously very interested in the implications of the recent Supreme Court decision regarding sports betting. Keep in mind that Harrah’s Cherokee operates under conditions set forth by a gaming compact established between Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the State of North Carolina. Any change in that agreement is a subject that can only be addressed by the Tribe.”
Caesars Entertainment, Inc. operates several sports betting operations, or sports book as they are many times referred to, at properties in Nevada including Harrah’s Laughlin Race & Sports Book and Harrah’s Last Vegas.
The National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) has supported the idea of tribes getting into the sports betting field for several years. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling, Ernie Stevens Jr., NIGA chairman, said in a statement, “We are encouraged by today’s decision by the Supreme Court that paves the way for responsible sports betting. As a major stakeholder, the National Indian Gaming Association joins the American Gaming Association (AGA), sports leagues and law enforcement to ensure and support a safe regulatory setting, adhering to the principles set by tribes and preserving tribal rights under the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and existing Tribal-State gaming compacts.”
He added, “Indian country has diverse economies that will be impacted by the federal or state legalization of sports betting, and as a significant stakeholder our gaming tribes look forward to being at the table in establishing the critical regulatory framework that will minimize the negative impacts of sports betting on tribal casinos, permitting tribes to conduct sports betting in the same manner as non-tribal operators and in line with the principles established by tribes.”
At the heart of the Supreme Court case was the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), also known as the Bradley Act, which placed a federal ban on sports gambling with the exception of a few states, the main one being Nevada, which were grandfathered into PASPA.
In the majority 31-page opinion in the case of Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito addressed tribes, “With the enactment of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act in 1988, 25 U.S.C., casinos opened on Indian land throughout the country. Some were located within driving distance of Atlantic City, and nearby states (and many others) legalized casino gambling. But, Nevada remained the only state venue for legal sports gambling in casinos, and sports gambling is immensely popular.”
He concluded the opinion by stating, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy change, but the choice is not ours to make. Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”