North Carolina should embrace sports gambling, or get left behind

Crystal Kalahiki pays out a bet in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino in Las Vegas. North Carolina should embrace regulated sports betting now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way.
Crystal Kalahiki pays out a bet in the sports book at the South Point hotel-casino in Las Vegas. North Carolina should embrace regulated sports betting now that the Supreme Court has cleared the way. AP

Back in 2003 when I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina, online poker and online sports betting took the campus by storm. We very much felt that we were part of a movement, the birth of a new industry. The websites were regulated, but not by anyone in America. The legality of the activity from an American perspective was certainly a shade of gray. In 2006, the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act became law and turned it into a much darker shade of gray.

It is for that reason when I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill, I departed North Carolina and the United States. I wanted to build a business and a career in the online gambling industry that excited me and I wanted to do it legally. I had little choice but to pursue my fortunes abroad. Today I am founder and CEO of Group Plc, a company whose origins stretch back to my dorm room in Chapel Hill. Now we are one of the largest performance marketing companies in the regulated online gambling world. Think for online gambling. Thousands of online gamblers use our websites every day to find the best sign-up offers and deals from Europe’s top online gambling destinations.

It fills me with great hope to read that my home state, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s invalidation in May of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), may consider legislation to regulate online and mobile sports betting. It would be a boon for North Carolina and give our thriving technology sector another advantage as it grows up to challenge Silicon Valley.

Some estimates claim that North Carolina residents already bet more than $5 billion each year through illegal channels. Whether you are for or against gambling, everyone is against problem gambling, lost tax revenue and fewer jobs. By regulating the already omnipresent offshore online sports betting market, North Carolina can take its fate into its own hands. It can tax the activity and create a brand new source of revenue, it can provide essential protections to problem gamblers and it can further increase its tech bona-fides by attracting companies such as ours to set up in North Carolina to create high-paying technology jobs. Bringing sports betting into the light will ensure it is conducted with the highest possible standards.

Other states may want to capture the wave of business opportunities and growth that come with legalized sports betting. The Virginia legislature is considering sports betting legislation, and South Carolina is preparing to explore it in 2019. Whichever state adopts sports betting first will be able to lure sports fans across the border to place their bets. With three major metro areas and over 5 million people within comfortable drives of state borders, North Carolina could lose significant revenue if Virginia or South Carolina legalizes sports betting before we do.

We’ve already seen the advantages of being first to market play out in states like New Jersey. The early revenue numbers prove that having proximity to states without sports betting is a huge benefit. The Meadowlands sports book is located across the Hudson from New York, a state where fans can’t place a legal sports bet. Since July the Meadowlands has brought in over $10 million in revenue. No doubt that much of this is coming from New Yorkers.

Sports betting will give a huge boost to the North Carolina economy, but only if the legislature takes steps to allow a legal, regulated and free market to flourish. North Carolina educated me and prepared me to run my business with a degree in entrepreneurship. It would now be my great pleasure to return the favor and educate our lawmakers on how to make North Carolina a model for sports betting across the United States.

Gillespie is a Charlotte native and Providence Day School graduate.