State lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to legalizing sports gambling on mobile devices and at select in-person sports venues across North Carolina, paving the way for betting to begin next year.
Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, still must sign the bill into law, but he has expressed support for sports wagering throughout the lengthy legislative process.
The House gave its second concurrence to changes made by the Senate to House Bill 347, which allows betting from mobile devices on professional, college, electronic and Olympic sports as well as horse racing. The bill allows in-person sports betting at eight facilities across the state. It allows 12 mobile operators to secure five-year renewable licenses at a cost of $1 million. The operators have to pay 18% tax on gross gaming revenue.
Mobile betting could begin as soon as Jan. 8. But the legislation also allows the North Carolina Education Lottery Commission up until one year from the bill becoming law, upon Cooper's signature, to go live with betting.
"We're going to work as fast as we can to get it up and running," Van Denton, communications director for the lottery, told WRAL News this week.
Said Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, an opponent of the bill: "Jan. 8, 2024 is still too soon. That's a little bit more than six months away to set up a gambling regulatory structure in the state."
The state could make $100 million in tax revenue from sports gambling in the fifth year of implementation, according to projections from the legislature's fiscal researchers.
The state's budget is roughly $30 billion.
"The Governor believes that North Carolina taxpayers should benefit from sports wagering which is already occurring, and this legislation provides a way for that to happen within the bounds of the law," Jordan Monaghan, a Cooper spokesperson, said in a statement. "Additional work needs to be done to make sure the NC Lottery Commission has what it needs to set up and regulate this industry."
Critics from both parties and outside faith-based groups have argued against the bill, saying the societal costs, including addiction, far outweigh the benefits of allowing more sports gambling in the state.
"The marginal increase in revenue the state would see from sports betting is nowhere equal to the harm online gambling will bring to low-wealth, marginalized communities," said the NC Justice Center in a social media post ahead of Wednesday's vote.
Several Democrats briefly debated against the bill Wednesday.
"We don't need this money to bring this industry in," said Rep. Abe Jones, D-Wake. "They need to stay out of here. It's going to hurt people."
Supporters have pointed to additional tax revenue, the proliferation of legal gambling in neighboring states like Tennessee and Virginia and the freedom of adults to spend their entertainment dollars as they see fit as reasons for legalization in North Carolina.
GeoComply, which performs geotracking checks for mobile sports operators to make sure users are located in a legal betting state, said it tracked more than 1.5 million geolocation checks from North Carolina to mobile sports operators in the first six months of 2023. Those checks came from more than 155,000 sports wagering accounts.
"The interest is undeniable," said John Pappas, GeoComply's senior vice president for government and public affairs. "It is also undisputed that regulation will give adult bettors in North Carolina safe and accountable options to wager and the state an important new revenue stream."
The eight venues that would be permitted to have either permanent or temporary in-person sports books are PNC Arena in Raleigh, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, Bank of America Stadium and Spectrum Center in Charlotte, Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro and Quail Hollow Country Club in Charlotte.
Sports betting is allowed currently in North Carolina at three tribal casinos. North Carolina will join more than half of the states in allowing online sports betting when it goes live.
A similar bill passed the Senate in 2021, but that measure failed in the House by a single vote last year forcing lawmakers to start the effort anew in 2023.
The bill allocates money from license fees and taxes to several different areas after the Department of Revenue and Lottery Commission receive money for expenses.
The Lottery Commission is comprised of nine members, five appointed by Cooper, two by Moore and two by Senate leader Phil Berger. It will be responsible for issuing licenses for interactive sports wagering, advance deposit wagering, service providers and sports wagering suppliers.
It is also tasked with approving events that can be wagered on, issuing penalties for non-compliance with any regulations and creating a voluntary exclusion program for individuals who want to be excluded from betting. The Commission will receive a daily summary of all sports wagering activity from the operators.
Members of the commission or employees of the commission are prohibited from gambling on sports in the state. The nine members do not receive a salary. They serve a five-year term and can serve two terms on the commission.
Mark Michalko is the executive director of the NC Education Lottery