RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – After a bill to legalize mobile sports betting in North Carolina narrowly failed last year, one of the leading proponents said Monday the issue is “ready for primetime” and could be addressed again soon after this year’s session begins this month.
“More people are more familiar with it, and they’re also more familiar with the fact that we’re still losing money to other states. So, I think that’s something that will resonate,” said Rep. Jason Saine. “I think we’re in a different place. We were so close last year.”
In a dramatic moment in the state House of Representatives last year, a bill to legalize online sports betting failed by a single vote. The bill would have legalized betting on professional, collegiate, amateur and electronic sports. In-person betting is legal at North Carolina’s three tribal casinos.
According to the American Gaming Association, mobile sports betting is legal and live in 23 states and Washington, D.C. Three additional states have legalized it, but it’s not yet operational.
Saine says he plans to file a bill this year that’s substantially similar to the one that lawmakers previously considered. He said he’s heard from some legislators who previously voted no that would be willing to vote in favor of it this time.
“We spent a long time last session, really over the course of two years, working with all the stakeholders trying to get the changes in and getting agreement,” said Saine. “I think this is something that’s ready for primetime, really just shortly after we get into session.”
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) was among those who voted against the legislation last year. She described a coalition “of super-progressives and super-conservatives” who were against the measure for a variety of reasons, including the proliferation of gambling in the state and whether there are adequate protections to prevent underage gambling.
Harrison said she was concerned about allowing the use of credit cards for betting, widespread advertising and potential corruption in college sports.
Opponents of the bill successfully removed betting on college sports during a debate on the House floor last year. Some also questioned whether it would generate substantial revenues for the state. A non-partisan analysis of an early version of the bill estimated it would bring in somewhere from $8 million to $24 million. Bill sponsors estimated it would ultimately be closer to $50 million based on other analyses that had been done.
“I don’t want us to get all glazy-eyed thinking this is going to be a great revenue source for our state because it won’t,” said Harrison. “I think it’s a false narrative to say that this is a better thing for the state and that it’s necessarily inevitable.”
Harrison and Rep. Marica Morey (D-Durham) proposed allowing betting in person at the state’s professional sports venues and only allowing betting on professional games.
“I’m not anti-gambling. I think that would be a good compromise to start out to see if that works,” said Harrison. “I think that the concept of having unlimited online betting and jumping right into that for our state is going to be a bit of a reach.”
Saine said he thinks betting on collegiate sports needs to be part of a bill that passes.
“If you just don’t want the money, and you want to cede that to Virginia and other states, then take it out. Bottom line is if you’re going to do it you might as well make sure that it’s profitable for the state,” said Saine. “The whole point of doing it is making sure that we’re not losing those dollars to other states. Because if you’re not allowing college betting, they’re just going to go to the other states, which they’re doing now and place those bets.”
Following last year’s election, this year’s legislative session will begin with roughly a quarter of the members being new to the General Assembly, which could have a significant impact on the outcome of this issue.
“There is a younger class coming in and a bunch of the old guard that were anti-gambling are gone and replaced by younger members. And, that dynamic might change the vote count a bit,” said Rep. Harrison.