Legislation to legalize sports betting in North Carolina is on the ropes after a dramatic couple of hours in the state legislature Wednesday evening.
The state House of Representatives voted on two sports betting bills Wednesday. One was Senate Bill 38, which narrowly passed after a 51-50 vote. However, lawmakers also an amendment to the bill that removed wagering on college sports in its entirety. That was a significant and startling step, especially in one of the biggest college sports states in the country.
SB 38 contained modifications to the original sports betting bill, Senate Bill 688. That included raising the tax rate from 8% to 14% on sportsbooks’ adjusted gross revenues. SB 38 would only be enacted it both bills passed. However, less than a half-hour after lawmakers passed that bill, they rejected SB 688 in a 49-52 vote.
A group of 19 lawmakers did not vote on either bill.
Opponents of the sports betting bills, which included a bipartisan mix of lawmakers, raised several concerns during Wednesday’s debate. Those ranged from moral arguments against betting to the confusing nature of a two-bill process, a step proponents in the House took as a way to amend the bill the Senate initially passed last year without needing to send SB 688 back to the Senate.
“Is this the time to be passing such a problematic policy decision? I would say not,” State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said. “Never in my 18 years have we taken up such a controversial bill… on such a fast track without the deliberate debate and thinking.”
Harrison also voiced several objections, calling sports betting a “predatory industry” and citing concerns that the 14% tax violated the state constitution’s 7% cap on income taxes.
Scandals Recalled as College Betting Ban Passes
State Rep. John Autry (D-Charlotte) introduced the amendment to ban wagering on college sports. Autry once served as the producer for the Dean Smith Show, the legendary North Carolina basketball coach’s in-season weekly television show. He also recalled the history of gambling scandals that have affected college basketball in the state, including the North Carolina State point-shaving scandal that took place nearly 35 years ago.
Remember, that what we do here today could have a negative impact and add another black spot on our great college sports programs in North Carolina,” Autry said on the House floor.
State Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincolnton), who served as the point person in the House for the sports betting bills, urged his colleagues to vote down the amendment.
Saine said prohibiting sportsbooks from offering odds on college games would not only cost the state valuable tax dollars, but it also would do the exact opposite of what Autry wanted to accomplish.
“Not having regulated betting hurts the integrity of the sport,” Saine said. “If we want to protect the integrity of college sports, we need to know who is betting what. If we take it out, we won’t.”
Technically, North Carolina is already considered a sports betting state since lawmakers approved it for tribal casinos in 2019. The two Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Harrah’s casinos in the western part of the state have retail sportsbooks and take wagers on college events.
Some other sports betting states, like New Jersey, have prohibited betting on college games involving in-state teams but allow wagering on other college events. Oregon’s lottery-run sportsbook operated by DraftKings does not offer betting on college sports, but the tribal casino sportsbooks in the state do take such wagers.
Momentum Thwarted in Carolina
Wednesday evening’s votes dampened the enthusiasm that had been building in recent days that lawmakers would finally act in North Carolina. After not taking up the bill during the first month of the session, two House committees passed the bills this week, including the Finance and Rules committees earlier Wednesday.
While the North Carolina Constitution does not give a specific end date for legislative sessions, the General Assembly is currently scheduled to adjourn on June 30, giving sports betting proponents a week to resolve any issues and get a bill – or bills – to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has said he would sign the bills into law.
However, Saine told reporters after Wednesday’s vote that sports betting wasn’t dead. Still, he did not seem too optimistic about its chances.
“It could resurface depending on what happens,” Saine said, according to the Associated Press. “If not, sports wagering is going to remain an issue for the state of North Carolina because … states around us are doing it.”
The bills before the legislature would allow sports betting statewide, either online or at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks at major league sports arenas and stadiums, NASCAR tracks, and golf courses that host professional tournaments.
Between 10 and 12 licenses would be available for online operators.
However, rather than following states like Kansas that passed sports betting laws this year, it seems like North Carolina is on the verge of joining Missouri and Kentucky as states that failed to get over hurdles in the final days of their sessions this year.
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