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North Carolina is now extremely close to having legal sports betting after the legislature passed a bill on Monday.
The House voted to authorize North Carolina sports betting at two Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian casinos by a vote of 90-27. The bill to add sports betting to Class III games offered by the Cherokee now heads to Gov. Roy Cooper‘s desk.
Another bill to create a North Carolina Gaming Commission and task it with studying NC sports betting is in the Senate for concurrence, which it could get as soon as Tuesday. It was withdrawn from consideration Monday to give the Senate more time to go through language that hadn’t previously been vetted
Passed by the Senate in April, S 154 was pushed for by Rep. Kevin Corbin and Sen. Jim Davis, who have Harrah’s Cherokee Casino Resort and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River Casino & Hotel in their districts.
“I’ve been a champion for expanding gaming opportunities for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for years,” Davis said. “They’ve been a great economic generator for the Western region of our state, and I’m happy to play a small part in the good they do for this region.”
Davis had S 154 on a path to be the first sports betting bill passed by a state this year. But a week after the bill’s Senate passage, H 929 was introduced by Rep. Harry Warren and complicated matters.
As the bill calling for a study advanced through the committee process, House representatives were confused about what to do with legislation attempting to authorize NC sports betting when a study of it was pending.
Warren and Davis ultimately made a deal to support each other’s bills, facilitating passage for both. Warren added language to his bill codifying that the gaming commission will not have the authority to oversee or regulate tribal gaming.
Davis agreed to shepherd the gaming commission bill through the Senate next week and provided Warren with a vehicle to accelerate the process. S 574 started as Davis’s bill related to modifying the definition of physical therapy, but its companion bill in the House is the one that moved.
Warren repurposed S 574 with the gaming commission language, allowing it to go right to the Senate floor for concurrence rather than starting from scratch in the second chamber.
“There was no time before the session ends to put it through the committee process,” Warren said. “We needed to get this done now in order to give the commission time to do the sports betting study.”
Davis’ S 154 only permits NC sports betting at the tribal casinos with no mobile or online wagering.
The North Carolina sports betting study, which would also look at steeplechases, is meant to analyze the impact the statewide authorization of sports betting would have on NC, as well as the Cherokee Nation and its gaming activities.
“I’m trying to put the horse in front of the cart to establish a committee and have it do a study that would be able to report to our existing Joint Legislative Lottery Oversight Committee on the impacts and feasibility of expanding and allowing sports betting in North Carolina,” Warren said.
The initial report would be due in February 2020, with a final report set for that April.
When S 154 was up for passage Thursday, Rep. Julia Howard attempted to add an amendment to prohibit wagering on all college games.
Davis and Corbin opposed the amendment. They argued that, in a state where college sports are hugely popular led by Duke and the University of North Carolina, removing college wagering would eliminate more than half of the betting expected at the tribal casinos.
House leadership pulled the bill off Thursday’s agenda to give members time to work out the issue, and the sponsors were able to get the amendment withdrawn by Monday’s vote.
Warren’s bill takes all current forms of gaming in the state, including lottery, boxing, bingo and raffles, and puts them under the oversight of one commission.
“The bill doesn’t expand gambling at all,” Warren said. “What it does is organize current gaming activities in the state, bring them all under one roof and make it easier to regulate them by streamlining the process.”
While the bill doesn’t expand gaming, Warren contends that the commission is necessary to handle possible future gambling expansions in the state, including sports betting:
“North Carolina is growing very rapidly the last few years and they’re moving from states that offer more gaming activities than we do. At some point, there will be petitions made to expand the types of gaming we’re doing, in particular with sports betting, and I think it’s critical we act now to establish a gaming commission that will be experienced in how to vet and regulate any type of activities the General Assembly might elect to expand into.”
When first introduced, Warren’s bill instructed the new commission to regulate daily fantasy sports. The final bill removed that portion.
“The bill as it was initially would have legitimized daily fantasy sports, and various members on both sides of the aisle weren’t willing to go there without more discussion,” Warren said. “I didn’t want to hold up the bill because the important thing is to establish this commission.”
Warren agreed that DFS was better left to another time, as this bill was not meant to expand on any legal gambling allowed in the state.
“Fantasy sports will continue to operate in the state,” Warren said. “We just haven’t decided to address it yet.”
Davis and Warren are confident their bills will get by Cooper’s desk without a veto. In North Carolina, the governor has 30 days to act on legislation.
The final version of the commission bill left out video lottery terminals (VLT) as the third area of study, with the governor in mind.
Warren indicated that, during the committee process, he heard Cooper didn’t like the inclusion of VLTs and might veto the bill if they were included.
Party politics increase the possibility of a veto. Cooper is a Democrat while both chambers of the legislature are led by Republicans. However, as evidenced by the votes, there is support from both parties.
“I expect the governor will sign the bills,” Davis said. “They are not controversial and we have strong bipartisan support.”