Harrah’s Cherokee In North Carolina: A Review Of This Unexpected Casino And Sports Betting Gem

Written By Brant James on June 16, 2022Last Updated on June 26, 2022
Oasis In The Mountains Casino Resort Of Harrah's Cherokee NC

CHEROKEE, NC – Preconceptions were quickly dispelled here in one of two lonely outposts of casino gambling in North Carolina.

Wedged between the rising landscape of the western reaches of the state and the Tennessee border was Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort, three hours from Atlanta, 90 from the kitschy tourist beacon of Pigeon Forge on the other side of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

This Eastern Band of Cherokees property figured to exude a distinctly rustic feel.

Or so I assumed.

We’re not talking men in buckskin at the craps table or women in calico – or vice versa – at the slots. But the image of rough edges and a bucolic sensibility came fairly easily, as did visions of an antiquated and empty casino floor. It was unfounded. And quickly corrected.

I stumbled upon the place as it happened to luckily land directly on my vacation route from Helen, Ga., to Gatlinburg, Tenn.

The chance to cross off another state where I’d placed a legal sports bet was too much to resist.

I’d let Washington out of my clutches in January because the $120 Uber ride from downtown Seattle to Snoqualmie Casino seemed unreasonable. This was too easy.

Having promised my family a quick jaunt to the Caesars Sportsbook, I was prepared for whatever wave of cigarette smoke enveloped me.

But the three women power-toking next to a door emblazoned with a “No Smoking” sign provided immediate hope. And true to its word, the place was completely smoke-free. No smoking sections were smoke – science! – somehow wafted into the supposed virgin territory.

While some states allow minors onto the gaming floor, Harrah’s Cherokee enforced a 21-and-over policy, with guards checking anyone who appeared close as they approached. I got to keep my wallet in my pocket.

A quick escalator ride was immediately revelatory. Opened in 1997, and renovated four times, most recently from 2018-21, the place seems brand new.

A massive and diverse food area – the Gordon Ramsay Food Market – rose above me to the left with eight stalls and a full-service restaurant.

There’s a Guy Fieri restaurant and a Wicked Weed pub. The Myst bar dominated the middle of the gaming floor as rows of slots and other games expanded out in all directions.

It was mid-day on a weekday. And the crowd was large. Not overwhelming, but bustling. Not a buckskin tassel in sight.

The Caesars Sportsbook entrance at Harrah’s Cherokee

Two Cherokee casino sportsbooks are likely to remain lone North Carolina options for now

North Carolina lawmakers seem close to extending the Cherokees’ monopoly another year.

While the State Senate passed a mobile sports betting bill in 2021, the House version is bogged down in committee and requires action before the session ends on June 30.

So, for now, sports betting in North Carolina is reserved for retail-only outlets at the two Cherokee-owned, Harrah’s-operated casinos in Cherokee and Indian Valley.

The bill stuck in the North Carolina House would allow for 10 to 12 mobile licenses that are figured to be snapped up by national powers like FanDuel and DraftKings.

Sports betting at Harrah’s Cherokee

Caesars Sportsbook at Harrah’s Cherokee is a well-appointed wagering nook in the woods

The meandering but well-marked path to the sportsbook brought me to what felt like the far end of the property from where I entered the parking garage entrance.

Again, it’s mid-day, week-day, with a few Major League Baseball games on and the National Hockey League playoff games a few hours off. The crowd was expectedly sparse. A few 20-somethings argued about a parlay over Miller Lites.

The ticket writers under the jumbo screens had little to do as most of the bettors seemed to be using kiosks. But the gentleman with the ponytail knew exactly where the closest ATM machine was located.

It wasn’t far, which ended up being good for the house. My first (second and third) legal bets in North Carolina casinos were failures.

Stealthy photos of the inviting loungers and the big screens banked, I repeated my path back toward the escalator when my phone rang. It was my wife. I’d promised 30 minutes and was squarely on time, so I answered without fear of repercussions.

Lured inside the entryway of the casino for a bathroom break and enticed by the food court, the family had settled in for some lunch under the watchful glare/supervision of Gordon Ramsay’s mural.

In a scene reminiscent of a suburban mall, young dads pushed strollers and moms with shopping bags queued up for fancy-looking sandwiches or pizza. None wearing buckskin. None in frontier frocks.

Photo by Brant James
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Brant James

Brant James is a veteran journalist who has twice been recognized in the Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, most recently in 2020. He’s covered motorsports, the National Hockey League and Major League Baseball among a myriad of others beats and written enterprise and sports business for publications including USA TODAY, ESPN.com, SI.com.

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