North Carolina online sports betting includes esports betting, but the future of that market holds uncertainty following the exit of several esports betting operators from the state.
North Carolina is one of a handful of states permitting esports wagering. According to ESports.net, the United States has more than 160 million gamers, making it the second-largest market in the world for that activity. Betting operators are watching the market, anxious to tap into the emerging Gen Z demographic. However, esports has not proven to be as popular as once predicted, and most sportsbooks are content to gobble up revenue from traditional sports betting.
Compounding the issue of esports in North Carolina is the sobering fact that some esports betting operators are dropping from the market. Luckbox, Midnite, and Unikrn have laid off workers or shut down market segments in recent months where they had offered esports odds.
Consumers still prefer live sporting events, especially the NFL and college football in the United States. As such, NC esports betting may struggle to generate a following in the larger North Carolina online sports betting market.
NC Lottery Commission holds off on esports betting for now
So far, the state has not officially granted licenses to sports betting operators, suppliers, or service providers. The NCLC Sports Betting Committee has opened the application portal at ncgaming.gov. The deadline for applications is currently Dec. 27, 2023.
These deadlines do not directly impact esports betting. Still, the operators that receive licenses in North Carolina can influence the market. The NCLC may face pressure to advance the addition of esports betting to the Catalog if enough major operators express an interest in esports betting and propose esports betting markets to offer.
Which esports sportsbooks have shut down recently?
Earlier in 2023, Luckbox, owned by Real Luck Group Ltd based in Ontario, suspended all operations for esports betting odds. In the past, esports seemed to be a hot topic in Canada. More recently, the market has cooled following investment by Real Luck Group and a few other companies.
At one point, Entain intended to sink loads of money into an esports product, Unikrn. But those plans never materialized, even after a brief romance with partner FYX Gaming. Instead, Unikrn focused on rolling out token-based video game sports betting from its base in Miami. However, that was put on hold in 2023.
Midnite, an esports betting brand popular in the UK, had spent significantly to bring top esports betting stakeholders to its business, but the company has now made job cuts. The emphasis, it appears for Midnite, is on sports betting and online casinos and less on esports.
What’s the reason for the paring down of the market?
There appear to be three reasons esports betting has been so slow to gain customers in the United States. These three factors will likely impact a future North Carolina esports market.
- Confusion over the product: What are esports?
This requires player education on esports—how they are played (and by whom).
- Split between sports-inspired video gaming betting and virtual “skin” type esports.
There are two primary types of esports. The first is competitions between people playing video games based on real-world sports, like car racing, football, tennis, and more. The second is virtual games, where competitors are inside a game controlling a character. Esports operators have attempted to offer “skins” betting on those games. This is where bettors can wager on various “prop” events like weapons used, levels achieved, etc. This split has made it challenging for esports to gain traction in some jurisdictions.
- Regulators don’t always understand or trust what esports offers to consumers.
State regulators are mandated to protect the consumer. Since esports is a new, emerging activity, regulators often fear whether betting on “virtual” or video-inspired competitions is wise.
Does esports have a future in North Carolina?
Online sports betting debuts in North Carolina in 2024. At this point, all we know is that it will occur after the 2024 Super Bowl and before the middle of June. We’ve projected five possible launch dates based on the most recent NCLC data.
It’s difficult to say what type of esports betting will be included when online sports betting launches. Yet, we’re optimistic that as operators submit applications and the NCLC provides guidance, some regulatory language will address esports betting, odds, and sportsbooks.