According to an NCSharp survey of 1,000 North Carolinians, 45% of respondents support casino expansion.
North Carolina lawmakers are considering commercial casino expansion as part of a new state budget. Only 29% of respondents believed North Carolina shouldn’t expand casino gambling. That left 26% unsure whether the state should expand casino gambling.
Lawmakers in the state Senate have proposed a casino expansion of four casinos, including one to be operated by the Lumbee Tribe in the southeastern part of the state. The other three proposed casinos would be in Anson, Nash and Rockingham counties. They would be developed by a single entity, according to the proposal.
The state is already home to three tribal casinos.
Respondents had similar feelings about sports betting in North Carolina. About half of the respondents knew about sports betting’s upcoming online expansion. Forty-five percent knew that online sports betting was about to launch in the state. Another 44% did not know online sports betting was coming to North Carolina, and 11% answered “unsure.”
Only 40% of North Carolinians think sports betting is good for sports. Forty-five percent believe that sports betting is good for North Carolina.
North Carolina has had retail sports betting available since 2021 at the three tribal casinos. However, most of the revenue potential lies in online sports betting, which can generate over 95% of a state’s total sports wagering activity. Online sports betting won’t launch until at least Jan. 8, 2024.
Hopes for economic benefits and anxiety about addiction
When asked about the potential benefits of sports betting expansion, North Carolinians who were surveyed focused on economic benefits. Respondents were allowed to choose multiple benefits when answering the question. Increased revenue for the state (58%) was tops among all benefits, followed by more entertainment options (32%), improved economic activity (28%), financial benefits to local businesses (28%) and more jobs (26%).
State revenue is the most obvious metric to measure the success of gambling expansion. It’s a concrete figure that would be only a Google search away. New sportsbook apps and new retail sportsbooks would also be tangible examples of additional entertainment options. The new sports betting law allows for retail books to open at eight professional sports facilities around the state.
Twenty-one percent of respondents believed there were no advantages to expanding sports betting.
Concern about gambling addiction
While most of these metrics are difficult to concretize, the drawbacks can be measured in hard numbers.
When asked about common concerns NCSharp has observed in other states, the most commonly cited concerns about online sports betting included an increase in addictive gambling behavior (68%), increased criminal activities (38%), difficulty to monitor and regulate (37%), wasting residents’ time and money (33%) and distracting from more important issues (31%).
The National Council on Problem Gambling found that 1% of adults “are estimated to meet the criteria for severe gambling problems in a given year.” Although severe problem gamblers seem like a small group, gambling addictions can devastate families and communities.
Secretly gambling away savings accounts can lead to bankruptcy that may impact families rather than only individuals. One study found the shame of bringing loved ones to financial ruin contributes to higher suicide rates among severe problem gamblers. Some reports have found that problem gamblers have higher suicide rates than those with other addictions.
Concerns about problem gambling are related to increased criminal activity. Severe problem gamblers can turn to theft to fund their gambling addictions. While online sports betting activity can be easily monitored, identifying and treating problem gamblers is challenging for gambling regulators.
North Carolinians expect basic responsible gambling features
After already being exposed to sports betting and casino gambling, survey respondents have similar appetites for expansion. They also expect basic restrictions for any new casino gambling offerings, including ensuring all casino activities are age-restricted (61%), keeping casino and gaming operations honest and transparent (60%), requiring mandatory ID checks for patrons (51%), educating the public about the risks of gambling (47%) and implementing responsible gaming rules and resources (40%).
Age restrictions are a specific policy that addresses concerns about youth gambling. Mandatory identity checks do the same.
Some responsible gambling measures are commonplace, such as self-exclusion lists and public education campaigns. Online sportsbooks also offer time and wager limits that have become standard offerings in sports betting markets.
However, a better measure of responsible gambling success would be the extent of youth gambling education in new markets. Teenagers are old enough to have smartphones and debit cards. They can quietly gamble at offshore sites without adult supervision. Young people are a needed audience for problem gambling education to ensure they can seek help if they develop problem gambling behaviors or disorders.
To that end, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services already offers the Stacked Deck program. It is the only Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Association-approved evidence-based curriculum for problem gambling prevention among teens and young adults.
The program is available to the state’s middle schools and high schools. NCDHHS offers grants to present the program. Last year, 22 middle and high schools and eight Boys and Girls Clubs throughout the state received the grants.
Respondents support North Carolina gambling expansion overall
The anticipated economic benefits of gambling expansion currently outweigh the perceived risks. Fifty-seven percent of respondents believed sports betting and casino gambling were desirable or very desirable for North Carolina.
North Carolinians also expect a safe gambling environment. Respondents believed the state needs general education on the risks of gambling (64%), more monitoring of gambling behaviors (53%), counseling services by specialists in gambling behaviors (48%) and monitoring access to gambling funds (41%).
Survey respondents seem supportive of gambling but are suspicious of problem gamblers. These are the kinds of attitudes that could renew North Carolina’s commitment to responsible gambling investments.
North Carolina is open to gambling expansion today. Still, policy failures in this latest wave of sports betting and possible retail casino expansion could hamper future efforts to grow the industry.
Online sports betting’s launch will occur in 2024, and retail casinos could get expansion approval by the end of August. Any future discussion of online casinos would have to overcome whatever shortcomings this wave of gambling expansion produces.
NCSharp surveyed 1,000 North Carolinians through Pollfish. Forty percent of the respondents were male, and 60% were female. The age demographics were:
- 25-34: 25.1%
- 35-44: 24.4%
- 45-54: 19.5%
- Over 54: 31%
All survey respondents completed all survey questions. There were no qualifying questions that made some questions available to a subset of respondents. The margin of error is 4%.
Image: Wayne Parry / AP photo