Senate committee adds horserace betting to sports wagering bill

Source: Carolina Horse Park, Raeford, NC

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  • The committee also increased tax on sports betting from 14% in the House version to 18%.

This week a North Carolina Senate committee approved a revised sports wagering bill that allows not just online and in-person sports betting in the state, but also legalized betting on horse races to the bill.

The N.C. Senate’s Commerce and Insurance Committee passed a committee substitute to House Bill 347, which would “authorize, regulate, and tax sports wagering” in North Carolina beginning in January 2024, including pari-mutuel betting on horse races. The bill now goes to the Senate Finance Committee where lawmakers are expected to take it up.

Senate legislators made other changes to the House-approved version of the bill, including raising taxes on licensed sports betting operators from 14% to 18% and allowing for individuals to bet in-person using cash.

Sen. Timothy Moffitt, R-Henderson, told committee colleagues that the legislation will create a pathway for the state government to regulate sports wagering.

“Betting in sports in our state is occurring, but in order for us to regulate it…we have to authorize it first,” said Moffitt. “This is not legalizing it…this is just recognizing that [sports betting] exists.”

If passed and signed into law, the act will authorize the NC Lottery Commission to issue licenses for sports betting outlets to operate within the state. Potential operators would have to pay a $1 million application fee to be eligible for betting licenses. Individuals would be allowed to place bets on both college and professional games.

The bill creates the NC Major Events, Games, and Attractions Fund to provide grants to attract major sporting events to North Carolina.

North Carolina currently forbids sports betting except at in-person casinos operated by the state’s Native tribes: the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Indian Nation.

HB347 passed the House in late March on a 64-45 vote with bipartisan support and opposition. The legislation comes a year after a similar bill, House Bill 688, failed by three votes in the House after passing the Senate.

However, support within the legislature for sports betting has grown in the past year, making the bill’s approval in the Senate likely. The bill has found bipartisan support in the General Assembly with two Republicans and two Democrats as its primary sponsors. More than 50 other legislators from both parties have co-sponsored the legislation.

If advanced to the Governor’s desk, Gov. Cooper is expected to sign HB347 into law. Last year, Cooper reiterated his support of sports betting in an interview with The News & Observer, stating “it’s time for us to step up and do it.” Other prominent state politicians, including Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, have publicly backed legalizing sports betting.

However, some conservative groups and religious leaders oppose the measure. President of NC Family Policy Council, John Rustin, denounced the bill before Senate lawmakers, stating sports gambling would harm North Carolinians.

“Decades of research clearly demonstrates that the more prevalent gambling is…the more citizens are going to gamble,” said Rustin. “Of those who [gamble], a significant percentage, typically between three and five percent, will develop a pathological gambling issue.”

Congress outlawed sports betting nationwide in 1992 through the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). However, SCOTUS struck down the legislation as unconstitutional after New Jersey challenged the law in 2018.

Since PASPA’s repeal, politicians in more than 30 states have adopted legislation legalizing forms of sports betting. Neighboring states Virginia and Tennessee have also legalized forms of sports betting.

HB347 will be presented in the Senate’s Finance Committee in the coming days, though it is not expected to be on the Senate floor until after next week.