Magazine   Gambling

PERSPECTIVE: Sports Betting Comes to North Carolina

On March 11, the week of the 2024 ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament, sports gambling became legal in North Carolina. According to the State Lottery Commission, which is charged with overseeing sports wagering in the state, North Carolinians spent just shy of $200 million during the first week. Yes, you read that right, $200 million in one week! That equates to about $1.2 million bet per hour.

Of that, $117 million came directly out of the pockets of North Carolina gamblers, while $81 million was provided by gambling sportsbooks in the form of “promotional wagers” to entice citizens to download their apps, establish personal accounts, and start betting.

The DraftKings website and others like them had promotions like, “bet $5 and get $200 in bonus bets instantly.” And personalities like comedian and actor Kevin Hart, NFL superstar Rob Gronkowski, and former UNC and NBA basketball star Kenny Smith saturated radio, television, and social media with ads promoting sportsbooks
and wagering.

Many friends commented to me that this is not at all what they expected, as their previous exposure to sports gambling was limited to fantasy sports leagues and tournament brackets. Others expressed outrage at the sheer volume of dollars being spent by sportsbooks on advertising and promotions, not to mention the millions shelled out on gambling itself.

Unfortunately, this should come as no surprise. These companies know that once they acquire new gamblers, they can inundate them with ads, texts, promotions, and other inducements to bet. They can also track customer activity and betting trends, since their apps are the platforms through which bets are made.

PROP BETTING: Proposition, or “prop” bets, can be placed on practically anything that might or might not happen during a game, including how many points an individual player may score, if the next play will be a run or a pass, which team will score first, how long the singing of the National Anthem will last, and what color Gatorade will be poured on the winning coach.

To some, prop bets and micro betting have become very problematic. “The president of the NCAA, Charlie Baker, is raising concerns about the amount of abuse being directed at college athletes by bettors,” according to a recent edition of NPR’s “All Things Considered.” “[P]eople who put money down on a point spread or a specific play someone may or may not make during a game, are increasingly taking out their losing frustrations by attacking players on social media. Baker said this week that 1 in 3 student athletes has been harassed by bettors,” the report added. “He and the NCAA are now urging states to ban prop betting on college sports.”

NC Family warned state lawmakers that legalizing sports betting would forever change the face of collegiate and professional sports in our state. We have such a rich heritage of collegiate athletics in North Carolina, and legalizing sports gambling only invites corruption and undermines the integrity of the games. In recognition of this, some states have already taken action to ban prop betting because of the likelihood of abuse, and North Carolina should do the same.

A PREDATORY INDUSTRY: Looking out for the interests of the athletes, especially college athletes, is important, but what about those who gamble? Clearly some sports betters will handle gambling just fine, but others will be lured in, overcome by the temptation, and fall victim to serious gambling-related problems.

In February, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) published an incredibly insightful article that chronicled the experience of a 41-year-old psychiatrist who got caught up in an online gambling addiction and couldn’t stop. “As a psychiatrist familiar with human impulses and addiction, [Kavita] Fischer knew better than most what she needed to do,” the article reports. “Yet she was up against an industry skilled in the art of leveraging data analytics and human behavior to keep customers betting. Gambling companies tracked the ups and downs of Fischer’s betting behavior and gave bonus credits to keep her playing.”

This WSJ article pulled the curtain back on online gambling, showing an industry that closely tracks betting habits and uses the data to actively target and prey on gamblers who gamble the most and who lose the most. “At PointsBet—acquired in 2023 by Fanatics [an approved sportsbook in North Carolina] VIP sports bettors representing 0.5% of the customer base generated more than 70% of the company’s revenue in 2019 and 2020.” That’s astonishing!

If you listen to Kevin Hart, Rob Gronkowski, Kenny Smith, and the sportsbooks, you would think that gambling is the most exciting thing that has happened to athletic competition in recent times. What has come to light since sports gambling went legal in North Carolina, however, has left a very sour taste in the mouths of many.

The profit-driven and predatory nature of the gambling industry has been on full display, and one thing is very clear – it’s all about the money.


John L. Rustin is President of the North Carolina Family Policy Council


Receive Our Legislative Alerts