North Carolina Pro Teams in the Hunt for Online Licenses

After falling one vote short a year ago, North Carolina hopes for a better turn of legislative events this year. But 2023 also brings more calls from pro teams in the state looking for their own licenses.

North Carolina Pro Teams in the Hunt for Online Licenses

Last year, online sports betting failed by a single vote in the North Carolina House. For supporters, it was a difficult pill to swallow. But this year brings a renewed sense of optimism—it also brings a call by pro sports teams to each grab a license. How the state grapples with the allocation of licenses will be a debating point.

The license changes sought by a coalition of North Carolina professional sports teams could shatter the stakeholders that have supported legislation.

The teams want eight of 12 operator licenses available. The bill from last year called for 10 licenses going to mobile gaming operators.

“It gives us a better opportunity to maximize the revenue,” Carolina Hurricanes team President Don Waddell told WRAL-TV. “We can’t get money from gambling. We’re going to get money from sponsorship and if we do a restaurant or something like that. So this gives us a better opportunity to capitalize on the amount of money that these people are going to make.”

Under their plan, the Carolina Hurricanes (NHL), Carolina Panthers (NFL), Charlotte Hornets (NBA), Charlotte FC (MLS), NC Courage (NWSL), Charlotte Motor Speedway, PGA Tour and NASCAR would each receive a license, allowing them to partner with a mobile operator. The teams would pay the same fee for the licenses—$1 million in the final legislation that failed in the House—but they would control it, providing leverage to make a more lucrative deal.

“All the teams agree with it,” Waddell said.

Gambling operators would rather compete for the licenses. FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM and Caesars account for some 90 percent of market share in the states with legalization.

If this ends up leaving fewer licenses, smaller companies might have to partner with a team.

Many states that have legalized sports gambling have allocated or “tethered” licenses to in-state professional teams, racetracks or existing casinos.

“That sounds good because, of course, that benefits the hometown folks,” Rep. Robert Reives told WRAL-TV. “But again, I’d hesitate just because I really need to see language. One thing I’ve learned up here is a lot of things sound great until somebody writes it out.”

State lawmakers return to Raleigh on January 25 for legislative business. In the 120-member House, where a contentious debate ended with a one-vote defeat for legalization in June. The 120 member House includes 28 new representatives, The 50-member Senate has 12 new members.

“I believe sports betting will get passed this session,” said Jason Saine, who has been the face of the proposed legislation in the House.

Opponents from both parties outlined moral objections to expanding betting in the state, in some cases calling back to the state’s contentious votes to allow the lottery. Others cited previous cheating scandals in sports in their debates. The various changes, plus the two-bill format, left some confused about exactly what was happening.

“When we went into that vote, a lot of us didn’t know what we were voting on, who we were benefiting,” said Reives, who is also the Democratic leader in the House. “And when you vote on something as serious as gambling, my position is I kind of need to know what the lay of the land is.”

Rep. Pricey Harrison predicates her support on more consumer protections, like barring use of a credit card to open an account.

“It would be great if there was some opportunity to come up with a bill that folks could live with,” said Harrison, who said she could support in-person betting at sports venues. “It may just be there are too many obstacles to getting to an agreement.”

Rep. Zack Hawkins, a sponsor of the legislation, missed much of the short session due to a family matter. His vote likely would have tipped the scales in favor. But, perhaps more importantly, his absence denied supporters a strong voice with other lawmakers.

“It just goes to show one small thing changes—you don’t have the champion talking about it all the time—people start making different decisions and you literally lose by one vote,” Hawkins told WRAL-TV.

In early October, the Hurricanes, Panthers, Hornets, Charlotte Motor Speedway, the PGA Tour, Charlotte Football Club and NASCAR hosted a luncheon for state lawmakers at Raleigh’s PNC Arena. No sports wagering companies were included among the sponsors of the event which was billed as an “economic summit to discuss proposed development projects, sports wagering and the economic impact to North Carolina.”

Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind Amour was a special guest during a lunch question-and-answer session. Lawmakers were also invited to skate on the ice and could purchase tickets at a special rate to the Hurricanes’ preseason game that night against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

About 20 lawmakers attended the event.

The legislation called for sports lounges at certain venues, among them PNC Arena in Raleigh, Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte and Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord.

“We’ve had months now to really have a chance to sit down, talk, see how this all fits into an overall economic development scheme,” Reives told WRAL-TV. “I definitely feel that I’m much more informed now than I was before.”