RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Sports gambling in North Carolina soared over a major hurdle on Tuesday as the House voted for legislation to permit, regulate and tax wagering activities less than a year after the chamber scuttled a similar effort.
The winning 66-45 vote for pro-gambling forces signals the legislature could be willing to offer residents in the nation's ninth-largest state the chance to bet on professional, college and Olympic-type athletics by computer, mobile app or in person by early next year.
One more House vote is needed Wednesday before the legislation can move to the Senate, which voted for sports betting in 2021. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper supports sports wagering legislation, as does Republican Senate leader Phil Berger.
Last June, a different version of the House amended a wagering proposal and ultimately defeated a Senate bill in a razor-thin vote. A coalition of Christian conservatives and liberal Democrats turned back the measure on grounds of protecting families and the poor from the results of compulsive gambling.
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 work-arounds, 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.
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, 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 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 measure cleared four House committees over the past week, including one earlier Tuesday, before the floor debate and vote.