RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A second-chance effort this year to authorize sports wagering across North Carolina took off on Tuesday with its relatively easy passage through a state House committee already favorably disposed to the idea.
The House Commerce Committee voted 17-10 for the measure, which, if enacted, would open wide the sports wagering industry within the country’s ninth most populous state. It's a largely untapped market, with several major-league sports franchises, college basketball, NASCAR and golf.
The bill would allow online and some in-person betting on professional, college and Olympic-type sports offered through up to a dozen wagering companies.
“There is big money in sports, as we know,” Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican and a chief bill sponsor, said during committee debate. “We feel like this is a responsible way to approach this issue.”
Whether this form of legalized gambling will cross the legislative finish line this year is no sure bet yet. A very similar measure failed by one vote in the House last year after advancing comfortably through the Senate in 2021.
A coalition of social conservatives and liberal Democrats in the House opposed to gambling fought against that bill on moral and economic grounds, saying it would create gambling addicts, break up families and push people deep into debt. Some of those critics again spoke against the measure Tuesday.
“Why do we want to facilitate something that we know has the capacity to destroy that many people’s families?” asked Rep. Deb Butler, a New Hanover County Democrat. “We are knowingly sanctioning additional abusive behavior, obsessive behavior, uncontrollable behavior and heartbreaking behavior.”
But some opponents are no longer in the General Assembly, and pro-gambling forces, including pro sports franchises and leagues, have kept lobbying for the authorization of sports wagering statewide in the meantime.
More than 50 House members from both parties signed on as bill sponsors earlier this month. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper also is a strong supporter.
The idea has “marinated for quite a while now. Folks have had a chance to really understand what it would mean for North Carolina,” Saine said recently. "And so I think we’re in a good spot.”
The vote sending it to another committee for a hearing scheduled Wednesday wasn’t surprising given that over half of the commerce committee's permanent members had signed on as sponsors.
North Carolina residents and visitors can already bet on sports at casinos operated for two American Indian tribes — two by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the mountains and another by the Catawba Indian Nation just west of Charlotte.
Broad participation in sports gambling took off in states after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Today, 33 states and the District of Columbia now offer some form of legalized sports bettering through retail outlets and or online, according to the American Gaming Association.
Bill supporters said state residents already are participating in illegal sports betting through local bookies or online workarounds, and it’s better for the state to control the activity and tax it.
“We know that some believe that gambling is a vice and we shouldn’t consider legalizing it,” said Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Durham County Democrat and another chief sponsor. “But much like we allow for taxes on alcohol and cigarettes, we can use this revenue from activity that is widely happening in our state for good.”
The measure would authorize the state Lottery Commission to issue between 10 and 12 interactive sports wagering operator licenses.
People 21 and over within the state’s boundaries could play on their phones or computers starting in January, paying for bets and collecting winnings with credit and debit cards, online payment apps and other cash equivalents.
Cash could be used at permanent sports wagering outlets that also could be established on the property or arenas, stadiums and NASCAR tracks or nearby. Temporary betting parlors could be set up during a golf tournament.
Holders of the sports wagering licenses would be subject to a 14% tax on gross wagering revenues. Cooper's budget proposal last week projected the state collecting $60 million through sports betting in the 2024-25 fiscal year.
The bill would distribute state proceeds to a host of local and regional athletics initiatives, including at least $300,000 each to several athletic programs at smaller University of North Carolina system schools.
A large amount also would go into a fund to attract sporting events to the state. The bill also dictates setting aside $2 million for problem-gambling programs.
Amendments that failed Tuesday would have limited wagering to professional sports only and would have barred bets using credit cards.