North Carolina's only federally recognized American Indian tribe could soon offer sports and horse wagering to patrons at its two casinos.
The General Assembly on Monday gave final approval to a measure that would give the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians the authority to offer the additional types of betting. The House voted 90-27 for the measure that had already cleared the Senate three months ago.
The bill now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper's desk. Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said the governor will review the bill before making a decision on whether to sign it into law.
The sports-book option took shape after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that made most sports gambling illegal last year. State law already lets the Eastern Band offer live poker, slot machines and video-style games.
Eastern Band Principal Chief Richard Sneed said in an interview Monday night that the new options would provide more amenities at the tribe's Harrah casinos in Murphy and Cherokee, but downplayed them as big money-makers.
Sneed said the tribe projects an additional $14 million annually by offering sports and off-track horse betting, of which $1 million annually would go to state coffers. State government already receives regular funds from Eastern Band gambling operations.
"People are excited about it, (especially) for a lot of folks that haven't done sports betting besides office pools," Sneed said. "We're just excited to be able to offer it" if it becomes law, he added.
Rep. Kevin Corbin of Macon County, who was shepherding the bill, told colleagues on the House floor the measure wouldn't expand geographically where tribal gambling could occur. Although conservative Christians warned lawmakers in committee about the societal dangers of more gambling, nobody spoke out against the measure Monday.
Eastern Band members benefit from casino-related jobs and payments of about $12,000 annually for its share of gambling income. The Eastern Band is also one of the state's top political contributors.
A separate measure now before the Senate to create a new state gambling commission would direct the proposed panel to study the feasibility of authorizing sports betting and steeplechases in the state. Sneed said he's excited about the study proposal, given that the tribe has been involved in casino gambling for more than 20 years.