North Carolina’s opportune sports betting launch shows promise

April 3, 2024 3:14 PM
Photo: Shutterstock
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports
April 3, 2024 3:14 PM
  • Rege Behe, CDC Gaming Reports

The first week of sports betting in North Carolina arrived at an opportune time.

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March Madness was in full swing, with three teams from the Tar Heel State — Duke, North Carolina State, and North Carolina – in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. NASCAR’s season was in full swing, and Charlotte FC of Major League Soccer was starting its schedule.

When sports betting launched on March 11, North Carolinians were ready to wager.

The North Carolina Lottery Commission reported the sports betting handle for the first day – which was only 12 hours because of a noon starting time – was $23.9 million, with revenue of $11.0 million. The first full week of sports betting resulted in a handle of $198.1 million and revenue of $42.7 million. And geolocation compliance company GeoComply reported over 5.36 million geolocation checks during the first 48 hours of legal sports betting in the state.

“I think people liked the ability to wager in North Carolina on sports,” said North Carolina Lottery Deputy Executive Gaming Compliance and Sports Betting Sterl Carpenter during a March 27 online webcast.

Bill Squadron, an assistant professor of sports management at Elon College in Alamance County, North Carolina, says the rollout of sports betting benefited from a measured and thorough approach.

“I knew that the legislature took their time and put in place a good framework for the sports betting ecosystem that was very sound,” says Squadron, who previously was president of Bloomberg Sports and has taught at Georgetown Law School in the District of Columbia, Cardozo Law School in New York, and Columbia University in New York. “As far as I can tell, the launch has been very smooth. I’m not privy to anything behind the scenes, and I can’t say if there had been glitches or anything, but from everything I have observed, you’ve got a very strong competitive market with the eight licensed operators promoting their services and working very hard to bring in new customers. And I think obviously the timing of it was ideal.”

NASCAR has fully embraced sports betting in North Carolina, partnering with DraftKings. According to NASCAR Managing Director of Sports Betting Joe Solosky, the launch was celebrated with former Carolina Panther and Fox Sports broadcaster Greg Olsen placing a bet at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte on Bubba Wallace to win this year’s racing championship.

The North Carolina launch “has changed a lot for us in terms of the collaboration with DraftKings,” Solosky says. “There’s more to come, outside of the state and in North Carolina and with international partnerships. There will be activations at other tracks, we’ll see activations at on the NASCAR website. … They’ll have a heavy presence on our fantasy platform.”

While Solosky is invested in seeing increased interest in NASCAR via sports betting’s launch in the Tar Heel State, he expects college basketball to do quite well. Golf also will be popular, given the presence of the annual Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club May 9-12 and the U.S. Open at Pinehurst Resort June 13-16.

“But I still think North Carolina is going to follow every other state with football being number one,” Solosky says.  “They just have such a dominant share right as a sport from a viewership perspective that I can’t see that any other sport overtaking it.”

During the North Carolina Lottery Commission’s webcast, Carpenter estimated that the state’s sports betting handle for the first month would be around $594.3 million, comparable to the launch of sports betting in Massachusetts.

Steve Ruddock, publisher of the Straight to the Point newsletter, said the state’s early results “are promising and compare well with other recent launches in Massachusetts and Maryland. The timing of the state’s launch and 10-day pre-registration period certainly helped the early numbers, which will fall off as the sports schedule weakens in the Spring and Summer. Still, the market will continue to mature and should see solid year-over-year growth.”

North Carolina’s projected sports handles also mesh with Squadron’s prediction of more than $500 million per month. However, one possible drag on revenue may occur if college athletes continue to be subjected to abuse from gamblers. The Athletic recently interviewed athletes, including North Carolina basketball star Armando Bacot, who received more than 100 messages after failing to get eight rebounds in a game, costing bettors who wagered on a prop bet.

Squadron called the abuse athletes receive from gambles “offensive and inappropriate.”

“I think that that’s an area. That as we get more experience going forward, regulators and legislators should pay attention to,” Squadron said. “I do think the whole area of prop bets creates challenges that don’t exist for the core betting products. I do think this is an area, that as we learn more and gain more data, gain more experience from various participants, that it would be wise to examine closely and determine whether or not changes should be made.”