Mobile and online sports betting could become legal in North Carolina within the year, something that has drawn passionate support and opposition from state lawmakers.
A bill to legalize sports wagering in North Carolina has more than 50 sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans. It passed the House 66-45 on Tuesday evening, with a final vote needed on Wednesday.
In 2022, a different version of the bill passed the Senate but failed by one vote in the House. This year it has moved through the House first.
People can bet on games at casinos in Western North Carolina, but it would take a change in the law for them to be allowed to wager elsewhere. That would include at lounges located at professional sports venues, and on their cellphones and other devices, The News & Observer reported.
House Bill 347 has four key sponsors: Rep. Jason Saine, the powerful budget chair and a Lincolnton Republican; Rep. Zack Hawkins, a Durham Democrat; Majority Leader John Bell, a Wayne County Republican; and Rep. Ashton Clemmons, a Greensboro Democrat.
Saine said during the House floor debate Tuesday that sports betting “is already happening, and ignoring the issue only makes it worse as other states around us continue to legalize it.”
Hawkins called revenue that would go to historically Black colleges and universities “a game changer.” Hawkins’ district includes N.C. Central University, an HBCU.
A fellow Durham Democrat, Rep. Marcia Morey, opposed the bill.
“I think our caucuses are divided. Because this isn’t about politics, I think it’s about human behavior. it’s about our values,” said Morey, a former Olympic athlete.
She called gambling “as addictive as opioids.”
Rep. John Autry, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, called it a “Christmas tree” bill, referring to all the things in it to get more lawmakers to support it.
The details of the bill could change, but here’s what’s in it:
▪ The bill would take effect Jan. 8, 2024.
▪ Sports gambling would be taxed, with a privilege tax of 14% on each interactive sports wagering operator, and some tax breaks that would eventually be phased out.
▪ Of the expected revenue, $2 million would go to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services for education and treatment for gambling addiction programs. Another $300,000 would be given annually to college athletics at several UNC System schools, including HBCUs. They are Elizabeth City State University, Fayetteville State University, N.C. Agricultural & Technical State University, NCCU, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina University and Winston-Salem State University.
▪ The Lottery Commission would regulate sports wagering and issue licenses.
▪ Betting on youth sports would be prohibited.
▪ Local governments and nonprofits would get grants to “attract major entertainment, musical, political, sporting and theatrical events to the state to stimulate economic activity and create jobs,” according to the bill summary. The Department of Commerce would administer the grants through a new North Carolina Major Events, Games and Attractions Fund.
▪ Only people 21 and older would be able to make sports wagers. If someone younger than 21 wagers, they could be charged with a Class 2 misdemeanor.
▪ Other new crimes that could be added are a Class G felony for “knowingly attempting to collude or conspire to influence the outcome of a competition subject to sports wagering,” and a Class I felony “for any interactive sports wagering licensee or service provider licensee who willfully gives false information on their license application.”
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Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan is the Capitol Bureau Chief for The News & Observer, leading coverage of the legislative and executive branches in North Carolina with a focus on the governor, General Assembly leadership and state budget. She has received the McClatchy President’s Award, N.C. Open Government Coalition Sunshine Award and several North Carolina Press Association awards, including for politics and investigative reporting.