By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
ONE FEATHER STAFF
The ability to place bets on sports games and off-track horse racing at the two casinos operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is now legal. North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper signed North Carolina Senate Bill (S.B.) 154 into law on Friday, July 26. The bill, introduced in February by State Sen. Jim Davis (R-50th District), passed in the State House 90-27 on Monday, July 15. The bill previously passed the House Senate 43-7 on April 9.
As of print time, there isn’t an exact time frame for when this will be rolled out for patrons to begin placing bets, but Tribal Gaming Commission, tribal, and casino officials noted that it is currently in motion.
The bill amends G.S. 14-292.2 to include sports and horse race wagering as Class III games that may be “lawfully conducted” on EBCI tribal lands. According to the bill, sports wagering is “the placing of wagers on the outcome of professional and collegiate sports contests”. The bill describes horse race wagering as “fixed odds or pari-mutual wagering on thoroughbred, harness, or other racing of horses, including simulcasting and off-track betting”. Both sections include this wording, “the wager shall be deemed to occur where it is initiated and received, all of which must occur on Indian lands within the state lawfully permitted to conduct Class III gaming activities.”
Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed commented, “It demonstrates the relationship that exists on a government-to-government level between the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the state legislature in Raleigh which also really mirrors the government-to-government relationship that we have on the federal level. If you make a comparison, it’s easier to get a bill through in Raleigh than it is in D.C. Things are so polarized in D.C. right now, it’s very difficult to get anything approved.”
He added, “It’s nice to be able to go to Raleigh, do the lobbying work, and have those face-to-face conversations with members of the House and the Senate. On this bill, we’re extremely grateful to Sen. Jim Davis who sponsored our bill on the Senate site and Rep. Corbin who sponsored the bill on the House side. It also demonstrates the great working relationship we have at the local level with members of the House and the Senate in Raleigh. Once again, the Eastern Band is out front taking the lead in Indian Country.”
Chief Sneed also praised the EBCI process for getting outside legislation passed. “We’ll submit a resolution from the Executive side to Tribal Council with a legislative agenda of what we want to get accomplished. Then, Council approves it and I have my marching orders which is to then get the legislation filed, get a sponsor, lobby for it, and then get it passed. It’s pretty exciting.”
State Rep. Kevin Corbin (R-120th District), who represents Cherokee, Graham, and Macon counties, sponsored the House Companion bill. Both he and State Rep. Joe Same Queen (D-11th District), who represents Jackson and Swain counties), voted for the bill.
“This is an exciting time for Harrah’s Cherokee Casinos,” casino officials said in an official statement on Tuesday, July 16 following passage of the bill in the state house. “We are encouraged by the news and thrilled to be one step closer to offering this new opportunity to our guests and sports fans.”
The news wasn’t pleasant to all ears in North Carolina including the North Carolina Family Policy Council which has been a long-time opponent of legalized gambling in the state. “While S.B. 154 may seem like an isolated and limited expansion of gambling in North Carolina, this bill is likely to have much more far-reaching consequences for citizens in our state and beyond,” John L. Rustin, N.C. Family Policy Council president, said in a statement. “Sports gambling is particularly corruptive and addicting, and authorizing these additional forms of gambling on the Cherokee reservation will give current gamblers even more ways to gamble and it will also attract additional new gamblers to the tribal casinos.”
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 Supreme Court ruled that 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, was unconstitutional.
According to legalsportsreport.com, eight states now have “state-regulated sports betting industries” including: Nevada, Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Arkansas.
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 decision in 2018, Ernie Stevens Jr., NIGA chairman, said in a statement, “Indian Country has diverse economics that will be impacted by the federal and 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.”