Sports betting legislation passed the state Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday, clearing an initial hurdle on its way to the full Senate.

The primary sponsor  Sen. Jim Perry, R-Lenoir County, has gotten support for Senate Bill 688 by pointing out that many North Carolina residents already bet on sports with black market websites or apps in other countries.  

“We have sports betting today for those who want to bet. It’s just not something regulated and taxed by the state,” Perry told members of the Senate Finance Committee. “I don’t want to put my head in the sand over that issue, but I also don’t want to belittle anyone who’s uncomfortable with it.”

S.B. 688 was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary on Aug. 4 after its passage in Finance.

Sports betting is already legal in the state in a limited capacity — both casinos operated by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee and Murphy opened sportsbooks earlier this year after the federal government signed off on a revised gaming compact between that tribe and state leaders.

Allowing statewide sports betting through mobile phones and laptop computers is also a matter of keeping up with the joneses for North Carolina. Since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2019, which limited sports betting to Nevada, about half of the states have legalized wagering in some form. That includes border states Tennessee and Virginia.

The bill would set the tax rate on sports betting revenue at 8% and would permit up to 12 online licenses to be issued. Facilities that host professional events with attendance greater than 17,000 can also receive licenses. That includes sports venues that are home to teams like the Carolina Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Charlotte Hornets.  

The legislation would establish a special fund to attract sporting events and attractions to the state, which would receive half of the proceeds. The other half would go to the state coffers.

Jon Sanders, research editor and senior fellow at the John Locke Foundation, has told Carolina Journal he likes that the state is considering opening up sports betting to the free market, but he’s also concerned the tourism fund created by the bill could become an incentives free-for-all.

Companion sports betting legislation, House Bill 631, remains filed in that body, but the Senate bill will take priority, according to its sponsor, Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln.