North Carolina Lottery officials say they will continue with a plan to launch digital instant games in November, despite a new state law that limits the games the lottery can offer.
Both chambers of the state legislature passed House Bill 259, a comprehensive state budget bill that includes a provision prohibiting the state lottery from offering “casino-style games” as part of its previously announced effort to launch an enhanced iLottery program.
However, during a meeting of the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission on Wednesday (September 27), a lottery executive confirmed that lottery officials had input into the budget bill and that it does not prohibit the lottery from expanding online offerings as early as November beyond selling tickets for standard draw games.
“There was a provision that was put in the budget that prohibits us from doing iGaming and not e-instants, so it was a distinguished difference,” said Hayden Bauguess, director of government affairs for the lottery.
“Our legal department and staff worked with the Senate on that language and got that in there to where we felt comfortable with what we’re trying to do with our e-instants program and what they necessarily don’t want us to get into in the gaming world,” he said.
Online lottery offerings have varied greatly by state, with some states like Michigan and Pennsylvania offering a full suite of digital games that are comparable to casino offerings, while others states have restricted iLottery offerings to selling tickets for existing draw games, or offered nothing at all.
In some states, the void has also been filled by lottery couriers like Jackpocket and Lotto.com, which offer sales of draw games like Powerball and Mega Millions.
The North Carolina budget bill also contained provisions altering the state's yet-to-launch mobile sports-betting program, removing a cap of 12 operators, but also requiring all mobile operators to reach a “written designation agreement” with a professional sports team or facility. This effectively requires a market-access deal.
Bauguess said on Wednesday that lottery staff are still working through the implications of the new provision.
“We are working hard to figure out what those mean for where we are in the process, and as soon as we get a better grip on understanding what that does for our role in the sports-betting process, we’ll put that out to the full commission,” he said.
The commission voted Wednesday to form its own sports-betting committee that will begin meeting and will consider sports-betting policy issues as they emerge.
Under legislation permitting mobile sports betting that was adopted in June, the state is required to launch no earlier than January 2024, but no later than June 2024.
“Considering the significant undertaking that the commission is going to have to put together in order to get sports betting off the ground, we've determined that putting an individual committee to deal with sports-betting issues that don't fit neatly into the other committees … is an effective way to move things forward with sports betting in a more focused way,” said Ripley Rand, chairman of the lottery commission.