Bingo & Charitable Gambling in North Carolina

In addition to various types of legal gambling available in North Carolina, there are also several charitable gaming options, highlighted by a number of NC bingo halls. Besides bingo, the other primary types of gambling for charity allowed in North Carolina are raffles and “game nights.”

Here’s an overview of the different varieties of charitable gaming in NC, additional information about Beach Bingo, another type of legal bingo in the state, plus discussion of North Carolina bingo laws and online bingo options.

How to play online bingo in North Carolina

North Carolina does not allow real money online casinos, which means you cannot play online bingo for real money in NC. As discussed below, there are numerous in-person bingo halls all around the state, but no cash-based online bingo options.

There are no so-called “remote caller bingo” locations in North Carolina, either. Such sites involve live broadcasts of bingo games, but generally still involve players having to visit a physical location from which to play. In NC, all legal bingo games occur in person at licensed bingo halls.

That said, there is one way for NC players to enjoy bingo online.

Social and sweepstakes online bingo sites

One legal option to play bingo online in North Carolina is at social and sweepstakes sites that have bingo among their available games. Such sites use virtual currencies, although in some cases provide opportunities for players to redeem their winnings for cash prizes.

One popular social and sweepstakes casino that does have a bingo game is Chumba Casino. The bingo game on Chumba is called Flambingo and plays very similarly to regular bingo. Players receive virtual cards with numbered spaces and match their numbers as they are called. Chumba Casino features many slots and table games as well.

Don’t be mistaken by other online bingo sites that use real money and claim to be available for NC players. Such offshore sites do not abide by US or NC gambling laws and present significant risks to those who try to play on them from North Carolina.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a live bingo game in NC, there is no shortage of options.

Charitable bingo in North Carolina

Bingo is easily the most prevalent charitable game available in North Carolina. In the not-too-distant past, there were well over 200 licensed bingo halls in North Carolina, although that number has declined more recently to around half that total.

Nonprofit organizations are eligible to apply for and receive a charitable bingo license. Types of organizations that qualify include the following:

  • Charitable organizations
  • Civic organizations
  • Fraternal groups
  • Patriotic organizations
  • Property owners’ associations
  • Religious organizations and churches
  • Veterans’ organizations (American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc.)
  • Volunteer fire departments and rescue squads

The organization needs to have been in existence and operating for at least one year prior to obtaining a bingo license. The licenses cost $200 per year and require annual renewal.

An organization has to keep proceeds from charitable bingo games in a separate bank account and only use them to conduct the games, maintain locations, and for other charitable purposes outlined by the bingo regulations in North Carolina General Statutes Chapter 14, Article 37.

Alcohol Law Enforcement, part of the NC Department of Public Safety, is the regulatory agency for charitable bingo in the state. ALE’s bingo administrator licenses and oversees all charitable bingo in the state and ensures organizations comply with NC bingo laws.

North Carolina charitable bingo: Limits on sessions and prizes

With charitable bingo in North Carolina, there are limits on both the frequency of sessions bingo halls can conduct and the amount in prizes that people can win.

When it comes to scheduling, the organizations can only offer two sessions of bingo per week, with sessions not to exceed five hours. They also can’t have sessions more than once in a 48-hour period.

Bingo prizes cannot exceed $500 for a single game. Meanwhile, the maximum total of prizes during a single session maxes out at $1,500, although if the bingo hall only hosts one session per week, it can offer up to $2,500 in that session.

Bingo is the most popular form of charitable gaming in NC (Shutterstock)

Beach Bingo

There is another type of legal bingo in NC that is not technically charitable gaming but worth our attention — Beach Bingo.

Since commercial entities can offer these low-stakes bingo games, some consider Beach Bingo an example of social gaming. From a practical standpoint, though, bingo players don’t necessarily distinguish between charitable bingo and Beach Bingo, as the games and facilities are often similar (although the prizes are not).

The name Beach Bingo is not entirely accurate, either, since not all of the businesses that offer Beach Bingo are located at North Carolina beaches. In fact, you’ll find Beach Bingo locations in all parts of the state. At last check, there were more than 50 Beach Bingo sites active in NC.

The NC State Bureau of Investigation oversees Beach Bingo, issuing licenses and ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

Beach Bingo licenses initially cost $300, with an annual renewal fee of $300. There are no specific requirements regarding which kinds of businesses can obtain Beach Bingo licenses. Even individuals can apply for licenses.

Unlike with charitable bingo, there are no limits on the number of sessions Beach Bingo halls can have per week. There is, however, a strict limit on the prizes available. Beach Bingo games can only offer prizes of $10 or less, or merchandise that has a value of $10 or less (but is not eligible for cash redemption). However, players can play multiple games at once (and often do).

While Beach Bingo isn’t as widespread (or well known) in NC as traditional charitable bingo, some of the locations that offer it are quite big, with hundreds of seats and games every night.

Cherokee Tribal Bingo

One other popular bingo hall in North Carolina is worth mentioning as well, Cherokee Tribal Bingo.

The tribe-run facility is located in Cherokee just a mile-and-a-half from Harrah’s Cherokee Resort Casino and features a large 1,000-seat bingo hall. When open, Cherokee Tribal Bingo has typically hosted sessions from Wednesday through Sunday.

The facility closed for an extended period starting in March 2020 and at last check had yet to reopen, so be sure to look online or call ahead before visiting.

Raffles in North Carolina

Nonprofit and charitable organizations also have the option to conduct raffles. Unlike with bingo, organizations offering raffles need not apply for licenses. However, they still need to adhere to the legal requirements and limitations for raffles in NC.

One stipulation is that organizations cannot offer raffles in conjunction with bingo games. Another is that they cannot offer more than four raffles per year.

The maximum cash prize an organization can offer in a raffle is $125,000. That maximum applies as well to the cash value of any merchandise available as a raffle prize (with one exception). The total amount of cash and/or merchandise an organization offers via raffles during the course of a year cannot exceed $500,000.

When it comes to non-cash prizes, organizations can offer real estate as a raffle prize. In that case, a single prize can be worth up to $500,000. However, an organization can’t give away more than $500,000 worth of real estate in a given year.

Game nights in North Carolina

In 2019, the North Carolina General Assembly passed HB 130, a new law to amend the state’s gambling statutes to permit nonprofit organizations to host “game nights.”

Only nonprofit organizations that have been in existence for five years and have tax-exempt status can host these game nights. In order to do so, the organizations have to apply to the ALE for a permit at least 30 days before the event and pay a $100 application fee. If the organizations hire game night vendors to provide approved devices, the game night vendor application is $2,500 plus $25 per device.

An organization can host a maximum of four game nights per year with a limit of five hours per event. The same organization also cannot host more than one game night in a single week at the same location.

Game nights can feature various casino games, such as the following:

  • Blackjack
  • Poker
  • Roulette
  • Craps
  • Merchandise wheel of fortune
  • Simulated horse racing

Note that you cannot use real money to play these games during game nights. Instead, you must use chips, markers or tokens that you can exchange for raffle tickets. Prizes such as gift cards and the like (but not cash) are then available via raffles. Any proceeds that the organization raises from the game night must help further the organization’s tax-exempt purposes.

Commercial employers can also host game nights among employees and guests, although they are not allowed to charge anything.

The passage of the new game night law did provoke some debate among lawmakers and other parties, particularly when the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians raised concerns about the legislation. The Cherokees represent the only federally recognized tribe in NC, and they operate two Harrah’s casinos in Cherokee and Murphy in the state’s mountainous western region.

In order to placate the Cherokees, the law included a specific provision that no game nights could take place west of Interstate 26 (which runs through Asheville), aka the “EBCI gaming exclusivity zone.”

History of charitable gaming in North Carolina

Starting in 1983, North Carolina has allowed nonprofit organizations to offer charitable bingo and raffles. In fact, for a long while, charitable gaming represented one of the few types of legal gambling in North Carolina. Harrah’s Cherokee, the state’s first tribal casino, opened in 1997, and the North Carolina Education Lottery first began selling tickets in 2006.

Bingo and raffles were the only types of charitable gaming available for several decades. However, a recent study by the Spectrum Gaming Group determined that much like in other states, charitable bingo is in decline in NC.

According to ALE figures, gross receipts for nonprofit bingo had been $30.8 million in 2002. However, by 2009, that total had slipped to $20.8 million, and in 2018 the total was just $10.6 million. Competition from other gambling options such as the NC lottery is likely one factor helping to cause the decline. Another is a declining player base consisting largely of an older demographic.

Currently, NC lawmakers are considering the possibility of other forms of gambling expansion, in particular with regard to sports betting. At the moment, only the tribal casinos can offer legal sports betting in the state. But if North Carolina were to legalize online sports betting, that might also impact the popularity of charitable gaming in the state.

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