Legal sports betting a step closer to becoming law in NC

Sean Coffey Image
Wednesday, March 29, 2023
Legal sports betting a step closer to becoming law in NC
HB 347, known as the "Sports Wagering Bill," -- passed a final House vote 64-45 and now heads to the NC Senate.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Online sports betting is one step closer to becoming law in North Carolina.

On Wednesday, HB 347 - known as the "Sports Wagering Bill" - passed a final House vote 64-45. The bill now heads to the Senate, which passed a different version of a sports-betting bill back in 2021.

If the Senate passes HB 347, Gov. Roy Cooper has said he would sign it into law.

Right now, if you want to wager on sports legally in North Carolina, you need to go to one of the state's three tribal casinos and place a bet in person. Under this legislation, the state would issue 10-12 operating licenses to online "sportsbooks", then tax those companies 14% for the privilege. The bill's sponsors say that means major revenue.

"You had the chief sponsor yesterday, suggesting that you could see as much as $80 million per year in tax revenue from sports betting under their model," said Geoff Zochodne, a sports betting analyst for Covers.

Much of that money is already earmarked for various social causes in the state. The bill sets aside $2 million for gambling addiction resources and education programs, $1 million for investment in youth sports, and at least $300,000 each for 10 state universities.

I feel like it could do a lot," said David Lark of Raleigh. "With sports betting you can do a lot with it, because of course you're spending money, but it can help the state and it can help other people, too."

After a similar bill failed in the House by just one vote last year, Zochodne said opinions have changed.

"I think what's really changed is the attitude of lawmakers," he said. "It seems there's like there is more of an appetite to pass that type of legislation that didn't pass the first time around."

Some past gambling opponents are no longer in the legislature, while sports leagues and professional franchise executives who would stand to gain monetarily from fan interest in gambling kept lobbying lawmakers.

This year's top supporters of the bipartisan House bill have been deliberate in building support, collecting more than 55 sponsors within the 120-member chamber. They say people are already gambling through underground or offshore bookies and online workarounds, or are crossing the border to play in Tennessee or Virginia, which are among the 24 states that allow mobile or online sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association.

"Sports betting is a form of entertainment, something that consenting adults with their own money should have the right to do," said Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican and lead sponsor during floor debate. "It is already happening, and ignoring the issue only makes it worse as other states around us continue to legalize it. The immoral thing is to let the illegal market continue."

Sports wagering operators covet the proposed licenses in a state largely untapped for gambling save for betting locations at casinos run by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in western North Carolina and the Catawba Indian Nation west of Charlotte. The state is home to the Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes and Charlotte Hornets, Atlantic Coast Conference basketball teams, NASCAR and professional golf.

There would be prohibitions on betting on high school and youth sports, and a late change to the measure Tuesday prevents horse-racing bets as well. Athletes for sports subject to gambling also would be barred from betting. And there would be a method by which individuals could voluntarily bar themselves from placing wagers to help overcome their gambling problem.

Bill opponents said the restrictions will neither end under-the-table sports gambling activities nor prevent what they consider gambling's scourge on society.

"Your vote on this bill is your legacy," Rep. Jay Adams, a Catawba County Republican, warned colleagues. "It's your wager on whether this will accomplish what the bill sponsors say it will accomplish, or it will result in the information that you can see all around you about the impacts of gambling."

The House defeated several amendments, including proposals to block betting on college and Olympic sports and to raise application fees on licensees and penalties on licensees who violate rules.

The Associated Press contributed.