North Carolina sports betting bill gets approval from first Senate panel

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It must get through 3 additional committees before it reaches the Senate floor and pass to the House

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egislation to license and tax sports betting through North Carolina cleared its first Senate committee Wednesday

The Senate Finance Committee’s debate on Wednesday kept largely to the money-raising portions of the measure. It must get through three additional Senate committees to reach the floor before it can even be heard in the House.

The bipartisan legislation would direct the North Carolina Education Lottery commission to issue between 10 and 12 interactive sports wagering operator licenses, along with supplier licenses for these operators. 

The applicants would be subject to criminal background checks before offering betting on college, professional and some amateur sports, including game outcomes and others not based on final scores.

The operators could also set up an in-person betting location within or near a professional sports arena. The state would collect money from license fees — the initial operator fee alone would be $500,000 — and an 8% tax on the operators’ gross revenues.

Although it’s been 16 years since North Carolina became the last state on the East Coast to authorize a state-run lottery, blocs of legislators still oppose gambling. None of the committee members spoke against the measure directly Wednesday, but questions prevailed on how financial benefits stack up against societal costs and whether money would be dedicated for public education.

The bill’s chief sponsor, Republican Senator Jim Perry of Lenoir County, underscored before the Senate Finance Committee that many state residents are online wagering on sports through out-of-state betting sites, or through conventional bookies, and recommended the regulation of these activities “to promote transparencies”, and for the state to generate revenues that can be destined to education.

“We have sports betting today for those who want to bet. It’s just not something regulated and taxed by the state. 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”, he said.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 20 states and the District of Columbia offer sports betting. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened onsite betting operations at its two far western North Carolina casinos earlier this year. 

John Rustin with the North Carolina Family Policy Council told the committee the legislation “represents a massive proposed expansion of legalized gambling in North Carolina. Gambling, and not the games themselves, will become the centerpiece of sports competition in North Carolina.”

According to AP News, Perry told reporters that some Senate colleagues have been moved to support the bill after they saw how easy it is already for anyone to place an online bet. But he understands the concerns people still have. “I think there is healthy skepticism around the bill,” he said.

Half of the net proceeds would go to a special fund to encourage sporting events and attractions to be held in the state, with the rest heading to the state’s coffers. 

The legislature’s fiscal staff estimated the combined annual total collected, should one bill version become law, could range from $8 million to $24 million.

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