RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – State lawmakers are expected to pass a bill this week legalizing mobile sports betting in North Carolina after the House voted to support the measure Tuesday.
Without debate, House lawmakers approved the bill by a vote of 67-42. The House is required to take a second vote Wednesday, at which point the bill would be on the way to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for his signature.
The bill will allow people to bet online on professional, collegiate, amateur and electronic sports and to place cash bets in person at professional venues like PNC Arena or Bank of America Stadium. It also allows bets on horse racing. The state would impose an 18% privilege tax on sports betting operators.
Betting could be legal as soon as Jan. 8, but the bill gives the Lottery Commission the discretion to delay that if additional time is needed. Betting would have to become legal within 12 months of the bill becoming law.
The votes this week come as Republicans continue to talk about potentially pursuing additional legislation that would legalize additional casinos and video lottery games.
“I think you see when it comes to gaming issues, you just see some changes out there among the people,” said House Speaker Tim Moore (R-Cleveland). “It was a big deal when the lottery passed. And now, folks don’t even think about it.”
Moore said the legislature could approve four “entertainment districts” in the state that could include casinos. There are currently three casinos in North Carolina on tribal land.
Non-partisan analysts in the legislature estimated through legalized sports betting there would be about $585 million in gross gaming revenue to gaming operators in the fifth year of operation. That would generate about $100 million in tax revenue.
A separate study by Spectrum Gaming, which was commissioned by the conservative group Greater Carolina, noted there could be almost $1.7 billion annually in gross gaming revenue from the state legalizing three additional casinos and anywhere from $1.9 billion to $3.7 billion in gross gaming revenue from video lottery games depending on how many terminals are allowed. The amount the state would make off of those would ultimately depend on what tax rate the legislature imposes.
Gov. Cooper weighed in on the debate Tuesday saying he still wants to hear more details about how it would work. He noted Virginia’s recent move to allow four casinos to be built along the North Carolina state line.
“The state of North Carolina ought to make sure that we are competitive. That was one of the reasons we finally passed the state lottery because so many people were playing lotteries in other states,” Cooper said.
He raised concerns about the legislature pursuing additional revenue through gaming while simultaneously pushing to cut income taxes. Those tax cuts are a key part of negotiations among Republicans as they put together their final budget proposal.
“It should not, however, be a replacement for tax revenue that we need to make sure that government runs efficiently,” said Cooper. “You’re going to have a hole there that’s going to be too big to fill by these gambling interests that we continue to talk about.”
It’s unclear to what extent Republicans will ultimately move to cut the state’s personal income tax rate in this year’s budget.
“In terms of things like gaming revenues, a lot of those are essentially voluntary taxes. You only pay them if you engage in them,” said Speaker Moore in response to Gov. Cooper. “It’s the income tax that punishes prosperity, that punishes someone trying to work hard to earn more.”
Alexandra Sirota, executive director of the North Carolina Budget & Tax Center, was critical of the state legalizing additional gambling options.
“Low-income North Carolinians are going to be pursued by this industry and that’s going to be a problem,” she said. “We know that the costs are high and the revenue that’s going to be generated is not matched by the costs that the state will incur.”
Sirota raised concerns about gambling addiction becoming a more significant issue. The sports betting bill allocates $2 million annually to the state Dept. of Health and Human Services for problem gambling programs and services.
“I think it’s a legitimate concern to ask those questions. I don’t know that anybody can predict with any degree of accuracy what’s going to happen one year from now, six years from now,” said Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham). “The benefits, yes, outweigh the detriments. And, I think one of the benefits is we allow free people to make decisions for themselves.”