The NC Lottery Commission is trying to keep pace with other recent states launching online sports betting. On Nov. 7, the NCLC released its second batch of sports betting regulations for public comment, nearly five months after Gov. Roy Cooper signed the sports betting bill into law.
By comparison, Ohio and Massachusetts reached this step in the launch process in one month.
Massachusetts and Ohio had draft sports betting regulations ready for public comment weeks after signing their sports betting bills into law. After more than five months of preparation, North Carolina has just begun producing sports betting regulations.
No launch date is set, and the NCLC disclosed Tuesday that online sports betting will not launch on Jan. 8, the first day allowed by the law. The hopes for Super Bowl and March Madness betting now hang in the balance, and NFL and NCAA basketball bets may not be available until the 2024-25 season.
This is the first commercial gambling the state has regulated since dog racing in 1954. Tribal authorities regulate tribal gambling at the state’s three casinos. The state-run lottery is a different product from popular and commercialized sports betting.
It’s encouraging to see signs of life from regulators, but North Carolina remains far behind the market’s strongest regulatory leaders.
The NCLC didn’t drop everything when sports betting passed into law
Cooper signed sports betting into law on June 14, 2023. House Bill 347 gave the Lottery Commission from Jan. 8 to June 14, 2024, to launch North Carolina’s online sportsbooks. However, public regulatory activity has only happened recently.
Highly public regulatory processes preceded Ohio’s and Massachusetts’ launches. Ohio published its first regulations less than a month after Gov. Mike DeWine signed his state’s sports betting bill. Massachusetts held nearly daily public meetings debating and establishing regulations starting the day after its state’s bill was signed.
North Carolina didn’t drop everything to address sports betting like Ohio and Massachusetts. In the first few months, North Carolina secured key hires and proceeded with its regular regulatory schedule, pushing sports betting’s launch further into spring.
On top of its duties regulating the state lottery, the NCLC is tasked with creating sports betting regulations and launching sportsbooks within a year of the sports betting bill’s signing. Rulemaking has begun. The first public comment period on the sports betting regulations closed on Nov. 1. Commissioners posted a second batch with more than 200 pages of rules to the commission’s website last week with a public comment period ending Nov. 27.
Manic paces in Ohio and Massachusetts
Shortly after both governors signed their states’ sports betting bills, Ohio and Massachusetts regulators quickly reached significant milestones. In about two months, the Ohio Casino Control Commission released four batches of sports betting rules.
It also began accepting sportsbook applications six months after the sports betting bill’s signing, a milestone North Carolina is unlikely to meet when its six-month milestone arrives in mid-December. Ohio launched sports betting 12 months after DeWine signed the bill into law.
Massachusetts moved even faster.
Its sportsbooks went live on March 10, 2023, seven months after the sports betting bill passed into law. The Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) held four public meetings in the first month to address over 200 proposed sports betting regulations. January got particularly hectic, with 28 public meetings that could run upwards of four to six hours.
In contrast, the NCLC’s Nov. 7 meeting lasted about 15 minutes and no one asked questions at the end.
Massachusetts’ long hours of questioning and deliberating followed the publication of the commission’s white paper on responsible gambling. The commission had seen sports betting coming and prepared to engage with that topic before the sports betting bill was signed in August.
So, Sterl Carpenter’s hiring in North Carolina is a particularly important development for North Carolina sports betting.
Massachusetts Regulatory Gold Standard
The North Carolina Lottery Commission hired Sterl Carpenter on July 28, about six weeks after Cooper signed HB 347 into law. Carpenter previously served on the MGC as the sports wagering operations manager beginning in February 2023.
Massachusetts is one of the most innovative gambling regulators in the United States. It pioneered the PlayMyWay budgeting tool, which automatically tells users when they’ve spent all or part of their budgets. Its GameSense program puts responsible gambling advisers in casinos to help customers implement best practices. The MGC consistently produces research about gambling, problem gambling and responsible gambling.
Carpenter’s experience overlaps with Massachusetts’ frenzy to launch sports betting. He has seven years of experience with the MGC preceding the state’s sports betting bill and launch.
As someone with experience in four-to-six-hour meetings, the fast pace of Massachusetts regulatory debates and exposure to responsible gambling innovations, Carpenter could expedite the discussions that consume inordinate amounts of time. Bureaucratic experience will also give him the tools to push the basic regulations through and filter discussions about policy details.
However, individual expertise has limits. Carpenter can’t remake the Lottery’s regulatory timeline.
Process differences in North Carolina and the fast states
Ohio and Massachusetts have regulated commercial gambling for years before introducing online sports betting. Ohio’s casinos opened in 2012 and 2013, and Massachusetts’ first commercial casino opened in 2015, followed by two more in 2018 and 2019.
North Carolina hasn’t offered commercial gambling since the state supreme court declared its dog racing tracks unconstitutional in 1954. (Both tracks were closed for procedural reasons due to legislative technicalities, not because dog racing itself was found to violate the state constitution.)
The state’s available gambling is either state-run or run by tribal governments on tribal land. So, the Lottery Commission lacks the experience with commercial gambling that Ohio and Massachusetts applied to online sports betting.
It’s more reasonable to expect a slower regulatory process in North Carolina than the frenetic pace of Ohio and Massachusetts. North Carolina’s Lottery Commission held its normal quarterly hearing in October, where it formed the Sports Betting Committee charged with rulemaking.
Unless the Lottery Commission suddenly shows a flurry of activity, placing legal mobile bets on the Super Bowl and even March Madness looks unlikely.
This isn’t all bad though. At the end of the day, legal online sports betting must be an enduring source of tax revenue. It must also compose meaningful problem gambling protections for bettors and vetting processes for new operators. If this procedure pushes regulators up against the June 14 deadline, that will be time well spent.
Regardless of any delays, once online sports betting goes live in North Carolina, we expect a strong first year of betting in the Tar Heel State. Our preliminary projection has North Carolina generating $6-$7 billion in total bets in its first full year of online sports betting.