The North Carolina State Lottery Commission unanimously approved the initiation of legal online sports betting in North Carolina, starting March 11, just before the Atlantic Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament.
Governor Roy Cooper signed House Bill 347, known as Sports Wagering, into law last June, allowing individuals aged 21 and older to engage in online betting for professional, collegiate, and amateur sports, as well as horse races. However, concerns have been raised by experts who fear that the law might expose college students to an increased risk of developing gambling addictions, given the prominence of sports on college campuses.
This legalization follows the Supreme Court’s 2018 decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association, which overturned the federal ban on sports betting in most U.S. states. North Carolina is now the 30th state to legalize online sports betting, with in-person sports betting limited to three casinos on Cherokee and Catawba tribal lands.
The online sports gambling legalization, scheduled for March, may lead to the availability of up to 12 online sportsbooks, including applications from the Cherokee and Catawba nations.
James Whelan, the executive director of the Tennessee Institute for Gambling Education and Research, expressed concerns about the susceptibility of younger cohorts to gambling disorders, citing advertising prevalence and increased technology usage. He said:
The idea of placing bets is just not a hard thing to do. One, you have a belief you could be good at it. The second thing is it’s easy to do. You don’t have to drive somewhere.
Rosa Li, a professor in the UNC department of neuroscience and psychology, highlighted that gambling, similar to substance abuse disorders, can activate specific reward pathways associated with cues or cravings. She noted that pathological gambling, identified as gambling disorder, has been listed for future study in the DSM-5, a handbook for mental health practitioners, indicating a need for further research and consideration as a potential disorder.
Christopher Mclaughlin, a professor at the UNC School of Government, expressed concerns that allowing sports gambling may elevate the risk of gambling addictions, particularly among young adults, including college students. However, he acknowledged the law’s significance as a potential revenue source for the state, citing examples of gambling tax revenue in neighboring states Virginia and Tennessee, which have already legalized online sports betting. He added:
The numbers are many, many billions, if you look simply at Virginia, a state that is a little smaller but roughly similar in size to North Carolina, there were over $5 billion of bets legally placed in Virginia in 2023.
The Fiscal Research Division of the North Carolina General Assembly projected that the state would generate approximately $64.6 million in revenue within the initial year of implementing the law.