This week, North Carolina House legislators concurred with Senate changes to a bill legalizing sports gambling in the state, advancing the legislation to Governor Roy Cooper’s desk. Cooper has indicated he will sign it into law.
House lawmakers concurred with House Bill 347, which permits online and in-person sports wagering in N.C. on a 69-44 vote. The Senate passed the measure last week on a 37-11 vote after making numerous changes to its language and features. H.B. 347 passed both chambers with bipartisan support and opposition.
The House’s concurrence is a relief for the bill’s Senate proponents after Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, initially wavered on whether he would advise the House to support the legislation’s Senate-altered version.
Speaking to reporters last Wednesday, Moore indicated he would oppose H.B. 347’s current form, motivated by his wish to add provisions legalizing non-Native casinos and video gambling machines. However, Moore said additions to the bill would have to be supported by the rest of the House caucus, telling reporters, “we’re going to talk it through.”
Senate pro tempore and H.B. 347 supporter Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, pushed back on Moore’s suggestion, telling reporters, “if there are other gaming issues, let’s deal with them separately.”
A day after his and Berger’s comments, Moore said the House would concur with the legislation, which took place in two votes this Tuesday and Wednesday.
Senate-made additions to the bill include the legalization of pari-mutuel horse race betting and an increase of the privilege tax on betting operators from 14% to 18%. The Senate also added a provision allowing the state Lottery Commission to determine an enactment date during the first half of 2024, a change from January 8, 2024.
Gov. Cooper, a vocal supporter of sports wagering legalization, suggested he would sign H.B. 347 in an interview on the Ovies + Giglio sports podcast. Cooper also praised the Senate’s tax rate increase from 14% to 18% and predicted a push to make sports wagering a reality in the state by January 2024.
“North Carolina taxpayers should get the benefit of [sports gambling] and this new law allows this to happen,” said Cooper.
Cooper will likely sign H.B. 347 into law within the next 10 days.
Despite widespread support in the legislative and executive branches, a bipartisan minority of General Assembly members opposed the bill. Sen. Jim Burgin, R-Harnett, doubted whether legalized sports gambling would bring increased profits into the state as projected by the bill’s proponents.
“$7.2 billion total betting in the fifth year. That’s not new money coming into the state, that’s money currently in the state being spent on kids, food, and rent. It’s just money being reallocated.” said Burgin on the Senate floor last week.
Sen. Julie Mayfield, D-Buncombe, also expressed concerns on gambling’s addictiveness and adverse effects on mental health.
“This bill legalizes an activity that is recognized as an addiction on the same level as heroin, cocaine, and opioids,” said Mayfield.
Current N.C. laws allow sports gambling at casinos owned by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Catawba Indian Nation. However, current state law does not permit online sports betting.
Over 30 other states have undertaken measures to legalize sports gambling since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 1992 federal law banning sports betting nationwide in 2018.
What’s in the bill:
If signed by Gov. Cooper, H.B. 347 will legalize online sports betting in North Carolina, allowing up to 12 online gambling operators to be eligible for betting licenses.
The bill will also allow up to eight major sports venues to apply for in-person sports books. The venues eligible for in-person sports books are PNC Arena, WakeMed Soccer Park, Bank of America Stadium, Spectrum Center, Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Sedgefield Country Club, and Quail Hollow Country Club.
Prospective interactive gambling operators must pay a $1 million application fee to apply for a state-issued wagering license, with additional $1 million renewal fees after five years. N.C. will tax operators an 18% privilege tax for their activities.
State income from licensing fees and taxes will be issued annually to multiple N.C. government departments. $2 million will go to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to fund gambling addiction treatment, while the N.C. Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council will receive $1 million annually to issue grants. $1 million will also go to N.C. Amateur Sports, a non-profit that sponsors amateur and youth sports initiatives.
Athletic departments of ten state-run universities will also receive funding, each receiving $300,000 annually: Appalachian State, East Carolina, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina, and Winston-Salem State.
Remaining proceeds will be divided among the ten universities, North Carolina’s general fund, and the newly created North Carolina Major Events, Games, and Attractions Fund. Under the administration of the state’s Commerce Department, the fund will provide grants to entities that “foster job creation and investment” surrounding major sporting events. HB347 names NASCAR races and major men’s and women’s golf competitions “major events.”