First glimpse of what N.C. sports betting might look like

Plus: CMS fails transparency test; Can Charlotte Agenda deliver real news?; $48 nonstop round-trips from CLT to Philly

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Sports book three hours from Charlotte is likely to be small but modern — ready in time for Super Bowl?

For sports fans, this week’s decision by North Carolina’s legislature to approve sports gambling at tribal casinos is potentially huge news.

It will allow wagering on pro and college sports and horse-racing in Cherokee, just three hours from Charlotte. (It also allows a second site in Murphy, four hours away, but let’s face it: People from Charlotte won’t drive four hours to place sports bets when they can drive three.)

The big question, though, is what are these spots going to be like? If you’re planning a guys’ weekend – most sports gamblers are men – this is a critical question.

Vegas dreams: For anybody who’s ever been to the fabled sports books in Las Vegas, the idea of sports wagering conjures images of plush leather reclining chairs in front of wall-to-wall 100” TVs as cocktail waitresses take drink orders. But Cherokee, North Carolina, is no Las Vegas.

Harrah’s, which operates the casinos that would add sports wagering, told the Ledger this week that it doesn’t have details on those sites — what they would look like, how big they would be, when they would open — because the law isn’t a done deal. Gov. Roy Cooper must still sign it, though it passed so overwhelmingly that it should be able to survive any veto.

Quote: Harrah’s spokesman Brian Saunooke said the casinos in Cherokee and Murphy would have “a sports book accessible from the main casino gaming floor.” He told the Ledger this week: “There are a lot of moving parts to this project which will have to be nailed down. … It is tempting to jump ahead to that stage, but we are not there yet.”

It’s so tempting, in fact, that it’s time to move from the realm of established fact to the realm of informed speculation. In examining other Harrah’s sports wagering operations, talking to an expert and reading North Carolina’s legislation, here’s what we know about the forthcoming sports books in Cherokee and Murphy:

  • No mobile. The N.C. bill requires in-person bets, so no internet gambling.

  • Smaller than Vegas. The sites are likely to be comfortable and modern but not grandiose.

  • Coordination with other casinos. The odds at Harrah’s, which is owned by the same company as Caesars, will be set in consultation with its sports book experts.

  • Wide range of betting. A “how to wager guide” for a Caesars sports book that opened last year in Mississippi included instructions for wagering on baseball, hockey, soccer, boxing, MMA, basketball and auto racing.

  • Focus on regional sports. The sites tend to highlight games with regional appeal. The new Mississippi Caesars casino, for instance, allows more kinds of bets on SEC football.

“Modern and cozy”: Brett Smiley, editor of Sports Handle — an online publication covering sports gambling — told the Ledger in an email:

Based on what we’ve seen so far in other states, I think patrons can expect a modern but smaller lounge with ample HDTVs, screens showing odds, a pretty robust menu of pre-game and live wagering options, probably about four to eight tellers available to take bets from about 12pm to 1am ET, and probably also a few kiosks where patrons can place wagers by themselves akin to an ATM. In other words, a modern and cozy sportsbook, consistent with what’s available at in some of the smaller population states to recently legalize.

He says he thinks the operations should be ready to go by next year — “perhaps in time for the Super Bowl” — but that anything sooner would be ambitious. Football accounts for most sports-gambling wagers.

Here’s a look at some of the more recent sports books at smaller casinos around the country:

How’s this for a rendering? The Book at Caesars’ Linq Hotel & Casino that opened in Las Vegas last year features interactive gaming, 87 TVs, self-serve taps and “fan caves” — separate rooms available for rent. Don’t get your hopes up: N.C. sports wagering sites are likely to be more modest.

Former Panthers running back DeAngelo Willams helped open The Book at the Horseshoe casino in Tunica, Miss., last year. It opened with 12 TVs between 65-75” plus three TVs showing odds.

The sports betting lounge at the Turning Stone Resort Casino in New York could provide the best view of what N.C. sports books might look like. Caesars, which owns the Harrah’s brand, is helping develop lounges like this called The Lounge with Caesars Sports.

Let’s see that Clayton Wilcox personnel file

The big local news this week is that yet another CMS superintendent is out — at least temporarily, anyway — with the school board suspending Clayton Wilcox with pay on Monday.

The reasons are unclear, but the suspension sounds as though it has something to do with the district failing to fingerprint more than 2,500 new CMS employees for the last year or so, in contradiction of school board policies. You can be forgiven if you hadn’t heard about that: WBTV and WSOC found that to be a big deal and reported it on June 21, but the story caught almost no traction anywhere else.

CMS is refusing to say why Wilcox has been suspended, hiding behind the usual dodge that it’s a personnel issue. In a public letter, the school board wrote: “Because this is a personnel matter, the Board cannot provide further details at this time.”


If this were a private business, refusing to release employment information would probably be a wise legal move. But CMS is not a private business. Under North Carolina law, school boards have the ability to release information from personnel files when

the board has determined that the release of the information or the inspection and examination of the file or any portion is essential to maintaining the integrity of the board or to maintaining the level or quality of services provided by the board.

Time for transparency: Given that the superintendent position has been a revolving door in recent years, and the fact that large portions of the county want to secede from the district, the integrity of CMS leadership is very much in question. It should err on the side of transparency and let the public know why it is sidelining its superintendent. It has the ability legally to make that happen but chooses not to.

Pro reporting tip: When reporters talk to school board members, they should ask why the board is providing such scant information and refuse to accept the “personnel issue” evasion. A smart follow-up might be: “Why doesn’t the board say why it suspended Wilcox? Did you know you’re legally allowed to?” Let’s see those responses.

Some tin-eared CMS lawyer is probably providing this advice, but the lawyer works for the board, not the other way around. The board works for the public. With its leadership in turmoil, is it too much to ask that CMS give the public some information?

Charlotte Agenda’s pivot to real news

Since it was founded in 2015, Charlotte Agenda’s wheelhouse has been local dining and entertainment coverage, mostly in Charlotte’s close-in neighborhoods. New street-taco “concept” in Dilworth? New speakeasy cocktail bar in NoDa? Agenda is all over it with enthusiasm and photos aplenty. Its leaders have been reluctant to describe what they do as “journalism.”

That might be changing. Agenda announced this week that it is hiring two people with news-reporting experience, adding to a staff and contributor list that draws heavily on writers with marketing and advertising backgrounds. In an article published to the site on Tuesday, co-founders Ted Williams and Katie Levans announced Agenda is hiring Observer business reporter Katie Peralta and former Charlotte magazine editor Michael Graff. Williams and Levans wrote:

As our company and audience has grown over these last four years, so too has our responsibility to serve as a reliable, trusted resource for the city.

We are proud to continue delivering useful information in a conversational voice, and the addition of Katie and Michael will position us to deeply report out the most important news in our city. We’re very excited. If we execute well, we’ve got the opportunity to serve as a blueprint for what a sustainable modern local media company can look like in the United States.

That’s an ambitious goal. Local news around the country has been in decline for years, led largely by the shrinking of local newspapers. There’s no obvious solution to fill that void, though there’s plenty of media innovation on a smaller scale.

Agenda’s attempt to become a source of actual Charlotte news, and not just upbeat features aimed at millennials, is going to be a fascinating experiment to watch. The values of marketing companies often differ from those of news organizations.

Big advertisers: Some people in town bristle at Agenda’s relentless positivity and its heavy reliance on paid content, which sometimes seems indistinguishable from non-paid content. It’s a safe space for marketers, and it counts some of Charlotte’s biggest and best-known companiesAtrium Health, OrthoCarolina, Bank of America, Bojangles’, Lowe’s and many others — as advertisers. It is a business model that has served the company well. Can that same structure serve readers better?

In a deep dive into the company last year, Columbia Journalism Review wrote: “Whether Charlotte Agenda can evolve into a primary source for hard news remains a largely untested hypothesis in Charlotte.”

We’re about to find out.

In brief

  • Legal tie-up: Horack Talley, one of Charlotte’s oldest law firms, will lose its name when it combines with Baltimore firm Offit Kurman. (Observer)

  • Zoning approvals: The City Council approved a number of big rezoning petitions on Monday, including ones that would allow redevelopment of the Shoppes at University Place near UNC Charlotte, construction of a retirement community at Shalom Park on Providence Road and the addition of 103 townhouses on West Tremont Avenue near South End. (Biz Journal)

  • Wells Fargo earnings: The bank beat profit estimates, but shares fell as investors worried about low net interest income and suggestion by execs that expenses could remain high into next year. Company stock sank 3%, its worst day since March. (CNBC)

  • Bought the (Rea) Farms: Charlotte real-estate giant Lincoln Harris has sold the Rea Farms retail development to Barings for $68M. The deal for the retail center, located near Providence Road at I-485, closed May 1. (Observer)

Off the Clock

Low-key ideas for the weekend

Movies opening in Charlotte this weekend:
  • The Lion King (PG) (59% on Rotten Tomatoes): Lion learns about life

  • The Art of Self-Defense (R) (87%): Karate studio comedy

Highly rated movies now playing:

  • Toy Story 4 (G) (98%)

  • Spider Man: Far From Home (PG-13) (90%)

  • Crawl (R) (87%)

  • Midsommar (82%)

  • Annabelle Comes Home (R) (64%)

  • Yesterday (PG-13) (63%)

Cheap getaways from CLT:
  • Charlotte to San Jose, Costa Roca, $254 round-trip on Spirit (one-stop), Aug. 12-20.

  • Charlotte to Philadelphia, $48 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Aug. 22-25.

  • Charlotte to Orlando, $57 round-trip on Frontier (nonstop), Sept. 7-9.

  • Charlotte to Baltimore, $108 round-trip on Spirit (nonstop), Oct. 17-21.

Source: Google Flights. Fares retrieved Wednesday morning. They might have changed by the time you read this.

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The Charlotte Ledger is an e-newsletter and web site publishing timely, informative, and interesting local business news and analysis Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, except holidays and as noted. We strive for fairness and accuracy and will correct all known errors. The content reflects the independent editorial judgment of The Charlotte Ledger. Any advertising, paid marketing, or sponsored content will be clearly labeled.

The Charlotte Ledger is published by Tony Mecia, an award-winning former Charlotte Observer business reporter and editor. He lives in Charlotte with his wife and three children.