North Carolina legislators are planning a new push to legalize online sports betting in 2023. The Tar Heel state’s neighbors, Virginia and Tennessee, have already legalized online sports betting. In contrast, South Carolina and Georgia have refrained.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he thinks there will be enough support this year for a sports gambling bill to pass.
Senate Bill 688 (S.B. 688), a bill that would have made sports betting legal in N.C., passed the state Senate and nearly cleared the state House last year. Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir, and Sen. Paul Lowe, D-Forsyth, were the bill’s lead sponsors.
S.B. 688 passed the state Senate in August 2021 by a 26-19 vote margin but failed in the state House by a 49-52 vote. Proponents of the bill had been optimistic about its chances of gaining House approval. S.B. 688 successfully navigated three House committees in a 24-hour timespan in June 2022, which led to heavy deliberation on the house floor.
Senate Democrats voted 17-4 in favor of the bill, while House Democrats voted only 24-20 in favor. A majority of Republicans opposed the legislation in both chambers.
With 26 new House members and 12 new senators, the vote count on an online sports betting bill could look significantly different depending on how the new legislators land.
Sen. Perry thinks sports betting should be allowed in N.C.
“Many North Carolinians bet on sports today, and keeping it illegal in parts of North Carolina unfairly criminalizes an activity that is legal in most other states,” said Perry. “Recent studies indicate sports betting would provide over $50 million for important state programs. I don’t bet on sports, and that was my decision to make. If an adult enjoys doing so, that should be their choice.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Orange, voted against S.B. 688 because she opposes legalizing online sports betting. Despite her opposition, Harrison believes new blood in the state House could lead to online sports betting passing this year.
Potential addiction, theft, embezzlement, and debt have been the chief concerns of bill opponents.
Paul “Skip” Stam, a Republican attorney and former N.C. House member, has advocated against allowing online sports betting in the state. Stam points out that gambling is addictive in similar ways that drugs are addictive. He also says that S.B. 688 was unconstitutional due to N.C.’s 7% income tax cap and would violate the state constitution’s anti-monopoly clause.
Stam believes the chances of sports betting failing to pass both chambers in the state legislature could be higher than many think.
According to a fiscal note from the legislature’s nonpartisan central staff, S.B. 688 would provide between $8 and $24 million in new annual state revenue.
The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers, and the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets were all proponents of the online sports betting bill. While S.B. 688 was being considered, famous former Hornets players Mugsy Bogues and Dell Curry were among online sports betting proponents who visited with lawmakers.
According to Forbes magazine, N.C.’s major professional teams are worth nearly $6.5 billion combined. N.C. is also home to some of the most valuable college teams in the country. UNC Chapel Hill and Duke are both top five revenue generators in college basketball.