RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) continued to bet the longshot up until the final horn on Wednesday when the North Carolina House gave its blessing to legalize sports gambling in the state starting next year.
The House voted, 69-45, with bipartisan support, to concur on third reading with changes the Senate had made to House Bill 347. The measure moves to Gov. Roy Cooper, who is expected to sign it quickly, legalizing basically all forms of sports gambling as of Jan. 8, the date for college football’s national championship game.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), recommended the adoption of the bill, saying that “I really appreciate all the support, all the debate, not just on the House side and the Senate side but in committee, too.”
That debate didn’t stop even though the approval was down to its final pitch on Wednesday. Harrison, who had argued vehemently against the idea and pitched numerous amendments in committees and on the House floor as it made its way to the Senate the first time, was undeterred.
She offered another passionate speech against the bill and particularly argued against one of the primary changes made by the Senate – the addition of horse racing, which she said had been removed in the House.
“This is a predatory gambling bill. It is still predatory and will hurt North Carolinians for very little in return,” Harrison said.
She thanked Saine and others who worked on what she called “improvements,” including the Senate’s increase of the income tax rate from 14% to 18%. But she said she believed that rate was not constitutional based on the state’s limit of 7% and questioned what would happen to the cost of the infrastructure to oversee gambling if that rate were to be reduced.
“A lot of us are bothered by the added horse racing,” she said, citing the deaths of Thoroughbred racehorses recently that shut down Churchill Downs in Kentucky for the rest of the summer. “It’s inhumane. … I don’t know why it was added. It would have been nice if there had been a more thorough debate. I don’t know if the Lottery Commission is ready to regulate horse racing.”
Rep. Abe Jones (D-Wake) said he is against the bill because the gambling industry is the only entity “that gains in the end.
“Gambling preys on the weak. Many are addicted to it. It breaks up families. In this body, we need to protect the family. This hurts families.
“We are flush right now in North Carolina. We don’t need this money to bring this industry in. … Real people are going to be hurt. It’s bad public policy.”
Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) and Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Wake) also spoke against the bill, with Autry saying it is “bad for North Carolina citizens” and Morey arguing that it is “harming the integrity of pure sports. More people will be more interested in spread than they will in the victory or defeat.”
Harrison, Jones, Autry and Morey were four of the 18 Democrats that voted against the bill. The were joined by 26 Republicans. The vote on Tuesday had was 67-42 on its second reading. There were 27 Republicans and 15 Democrats who voted against the bill. Amos Quick (D-Greensboro) joined the opposition on third reading, making eight representatives from the Triad: Dennis Riddell (R-Snow Camp), Brian Biggs (R-Trinity), Jeff Zenger (R-Lewisville), Julia C. Howard (R-Mocksville), Neal Jackson (R-Robbins) and Jeffrey Elmore (R-North Wilkesboro) joined the pair from Greensboro. Ashton Clemmons (D-Greensboro), Cecil Brockman (D-High Point) and Srah Stevens (R-Surry) were among seven absent or not voting on Wednesday.There were 11 who were absent or didn’t vote on Tuesday.
Senators last week had passed the bill, 37-11, with bipartisan support after they amended it to raise the rate for the tax income the state will receive, to add pari-mutuel simulcast wagering and to make a few other adjustments.
The original HB 347 had passed the House on March 29, 64-45, with 11 members not participating. There were 30 Democrats who voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it.
HB 347, which would be effective on Jan. 8, charges licensing fees of $1 million for up to 12 gaming companies and allows up to eight sports-book locations to be operated. There also would be an 18% tax on earnings, which some believe could face a court challenge because, as Harrison said, it exceeds the 7% state income tax cap.
That revenue will be directed in specific amounts to 13 colleges and universities, including all the state-operated historically Black colleges and universities, a statewide youth sports organization and $2 million to the NC Department of Health & Human Services to combat gambling addiction, which critics say undoubtedly will increase.
The Lottery Commission would oversee the licensing and operations, and excess revenue would be shared with those colleges and universities, too. There would be grants to help with youth sports facilities and equipment and a program to lure youth sports events to the state.
The Senate’s amendments that the House had to approve added Appalachian State, East Carolina and UNC Charlotte as universities to receive pieces of the revenue and addressed the planned change of the name of the NC Outdoors Heritage Advisory Council (which another bill would change to the NC Youth Outdoor Engagement Commission).
Saine had said the plan could earn $60 million to $80 million annually for the state under its original 14% tax rate. Cooper included revenue from sports gambling in the budget he proposed in March.
In presenting the bill to various Senate committees, Sen. Tim Moffitt (R-Henderson) last week said he is “not conflicted” by the idea any longer because “sports wagering is occurring in our state, occurring frequently, occurring every day. Best estimates are that $1.7 billion in bets were placed last year by our citizens.”
He said he didn’t want to appear “trite” and was simply being “realistic. … We can create a public benefit to manage and influence something that is occurring.”