A bill legalizing mobile sports betting in North Carolina continues to move swiftly through the legislature following several months of inaction.
North Carolina senators will vote on SB 688 Thursday, which would take NC sports betting beyond two tribal casinos in the state. First introduced in April, the bill sat inactive until passing the Senate Finance Committee Aug. 4. The bill passed the Senate’s second reading Wednesday, 26-21.
Should the bill pass the Senate and House and be signed into law, it would take effect Jan. 1, 2022. Gov. Roy Cooper publicly supported the legislation in an interview with WRAL.
Steady flow for NC sports betting
Since that Aug. 4 committee, SB 688 has moved through multiple committees with plenty of discussion, but fairly minimal changes.
“[This bill has] been through various committees and talked to death at this point,” bill sponsor Sen. Jim Perry told the Senate Rules and Operations Committee on Aug. 17. “We’ve had a lot of discussion in committees and I understand some folks will vote for it, some folks will not and that’s OK.”
Perry, the Senate majority whip, previously told LSR the bill has a “reasonable opportunity to pass.”
Legalizing mobile sports betting in North Carolina
Perry and co-sponsor Sen. Paul Lowe introduced the bill with the intention of legalizing and taxing an activity already occurring in North Carolina.
The bill legalizes mobile NC sports betting and authorizes 10 to 12 licenses for operators. SB 688 also establishes a $500,000 initial five-year license fee, with an 8% tax on sports betting revenue.
The bill also allows for sports facilities with a capacity of more than 17,000 to establish specific areas for betting. That includes venues for the:
- NBA’s Charlotte Hornets
- NFL’s Carolina Panthers
- NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes
It also includes facilities that host professional golf tournaments with a history of more than 50,000 spectators.
Former NBA players Muggsy Bogues and Dell Curry lobbied NC legislators earlier this year. Likewise, Hurricanes President and General Manager Don Waddell supports the bill.
Few amendments so far
Perry previously said he expected changes to the bill. At one point, he even told WRAL he viewed the bill as a placeholder.
But through multiple committees, the most substantial amendment was to alter the effective date to reflect the months of inactivity. Rather than Oct. 1, 2021, the bill now carries the Jan. 1, 2022 effective date.
On Wednesday, senators approved an amendment to send $1 million of sports betting revenue annually to the Department of Health and Human Services for gambling addiction education and treatment programs.
Commerce questions on NC sports betting
During the Aug. 9 Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Jim Burgin asked why the bill does not facilitate sports betting through the North Carolina Education Lottery. In response, Perry said he prefers private industry conduct commerce in the state.
Perry also told the committee he expects the state to generate between $25 million and $50 million annually once the market is mature. Even with that projection, Sen. Chuck Edwards fears the state is leaving money on the table and letting other dollars leave the state.
Sen. Kirk deViere said he believes sports betting can help North Carolina retain and attract sports teams.
“We want to be a business friendly environment,” Perry added. “I can’t believe they’d find it favorable if they’re handicapped against their opponents. I’m not going to tell you making it legal or not making it legal will kill the sports industry in the state. It does make sense they could be handicapped if we don’t provide them this tool.”
Plenty of outspoken opposition in North Carolina
While the bill has cleared the committees with relative ease, there are staunch opponents speaking out against it. Those opponents stretch beyond the 21 senators who voted against the bill Wednesday.
Mark Chreech, executive director of the Christian Action League of North Carolina, and John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, were present opponents at the committee meetings.
Chreech said sports betting is a “collaborative racket” and does not pay for the societal harm it creates. Building on that, Rustin asked the Senate Judiciary Committee how they would respond if a bill leads to a rise in domestic violence, child abuse, divorce, job loss and suicide.
“Unfortunately, this will be the result of the bill before you,” Rustin concluded.
Sports betting expansion in North Carolina
North Carolina sports betting already takes place at two Harrah’s-branded casinos owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Legislation to allow the tribe to operate retail sports betting passed in 2019, but the sportsbooks did not open until March 2021.
“We have it in the western part of the state at the casinos,” Perry told LSR earlier this month. “We also have it taking place in every community, so the question isn’t are we bringing sports betting to North Carolina? It’s, are we going to put some reasonable regulation and structure to what’s going on today?”
There is support for the expansion in North Carolina, as an East Carolina University poll found 64% of residents approve of the legalization of NC sports betting.