Sports gambling bill up for debate Tuesday in North Carolina Senate

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Sports gambling bill up for debate in NC Senate
North Carolina State Senators will debate legalizing sports betting Tuesday.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina State Senators will debate legalizing sports betting Tuesday.

House Bill 347 overcame a large hurdle in March when it passed the NC House by a vote of 64-45. In 2021, a similar bill passed the Senate but failed in the House.

Many opponents of state gambling are no longer representatives, leading many to expect the bill to pass through the General Assembly. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper supports sports wagering legislation, as does Republican Senate leader Phil Berger.

However, the Senate has had the bill since March 30 and has not fast tracked it to passage. On Tuesday, the bill is scheduled to be discussed during committee meetings; it will not be voted on by the full Senate.

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"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 measure would direct the North Carolina Lottery Commission to issue between 10 and 12 interactive sports wagering licenses to entities that would be subject to robust background checks and $1 million application fees. Starting next Jan. 8, people over age 21 could cast bets. Pro sports arenas, stadiums and automobile racing tracks could open establishments onsite or near by to offer in-person wagering.

There would be prohibitions on betting on high school and youth sports as well as horse racing. 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.

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"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 state would collect a 14% privilege tax on the operators' gross revenue, minus winnings and other expenses. Promotional credits given to encourage new players to bet and become customers also would reduce revenue levels until 2027.

The structure doesn't appear to be a huge moneymaker for state government right now - the legislature's fiscal staff estimates the state bringing in about $20 million in net revenue in 2024-25, a figure that doubles within three years. Saine predicted the state should collect even more - soon as much as $80 million annually.

The privilege tax revenues would go to local, regional and state athletics initiatives, smaller athletic programs at University of North Carolina system schools and problem-gambling programs.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.