RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – Two bills working in tandem to provide legal sports gambling in North Carolina are weaving their way through the state House but now with a couple of new elements that could help sports programs at historically-black universities in the Triad.

Senate Bill 688 passed the state Senate last August, 26-19, but the House wasn’t happy with it. Several legislators, including State Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Whitsett), then took Senate Bill 38, which had passed the Senate for other reasons, gutted it and replaced it with new language on gambling that expanded the tax rate and created more definitions about what might be legal.

Both bills cleared their final steps for a vote of the full House on Thursday afternoon when they were passed with amendments by first the House Finance Committee and then the House Rules Committee.

Bill 38 passed its first vote 51-50 on Wednesday night. The amended bill removed betting on college sports. Betting on amateur sports is also not included.

There will need to be two more votes before the bill passes, and the North Carolina Senate will have to approve it before it goes to Governor Cooper’s desk.

Among several amendments were attached during debate in the House Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday morning were one that would provide grants for youth sports in each county and another would provide a slice of the gambling revenue to support the athletic departments at seven universities, including North Carolina A&T State University and Winston-Salem State University.

“The latest version allocates 50% of revenue to the NC Major Events, games and Attractions Fund,” Hardister wrote in a text message to WGHP. “The remainder goes to operate the agency to administer the program, and the remainder will be sent to the General Fund.”

Senate Bill 688 by FOX8 on Scribd

N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)
N.C. Rep. Jon Hardister (R-Guilford County) (Courtesy of Jon Hardister)

WRAL in reporting on the Finance Committee meeting said that new amendments adopted in committee would set aside $2 million of net revenue annually for gambling addiction education and treatment programs, $500,000 of which would go to parks and recreation to create $5,000 grants for each county’s youth sports development.

From among the remaining net revenue – and remember the word “net” here – about 10% would go to the athletic departments at NC A&T, WSSU, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, North Carolina Central, UNC-Asheville and UNC-Pembroke.

It was unclear who introduced the amendment and how the list of schools was determined. Hardister did not respond immediately to those questions.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) said in a phone call that because of all the costs of administering the program, this wouldn’t be a large infusion of costs. “It’s very small,” she said.

Newest SB 38 by FOX8 on Scribd

Revenue estimates from the gambling initiatives have grown because SB 38 calls for a higher percentage of tax and other fees to be paid by vendors, but most have ranged between $8 million and $24 million.

But Harrison also said that there could be a constitutional issue with the bills because an amendment adopted a few years ago places a 7% ceiling on income taxes, and SB 38 calls for a 14% rate. “They call it different things, but it’s an income tax,” she said. “It’s a constitutional issue.”

Virginia’s bill

Virginia, which adopted sports betting and began its program last year, found some loopholes in its program that were limiting tax payments by about half of vendors operating in the state. The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the most recent available data showed that Virginia had taken in $4.98 billion in sports bets, with operators winning 8.5% of that. The state’s cut was $29.8 million, or about 25% more than the highest projections for North Carolina.

State Rep. Pricey Harrison

Virginia’s legislation prohibits gambling on college sports, such as ACC basketball and football, but in North Carolina those would be approved under the current bills. There would be no gambling on youth sports.

The bills in North Carolina are bipartisan in both their support and opposition. SB 38 passed the Finance vote, 14-2, with two Republicans opposing, and SB 688 passed, 13-3, with a Democrat voting against.

Harrison said she voted against both bills during the House Judiciary Committee vote on Tuesday afternoon. She said she was not allowed to introduce two amendments that she felt were important, one clarifying the amateur sports definitions for gambling.

But the amendment adopted by the Finance Committee to provide money for gambling addiction and treatment, $2 million set aside for the NC Department of Health & Human Services, was her amendment, she said.

‘Bipartisanship’

Should both bills clear committee this afternoon and the traditional three votes of the full House afterward, SB 38 would have to go back to the Senate, because it is a gutted and replaced bill. Hardister said SB 688 may need concurrence if there are amendments.

If all that happens, then Gov. Roy Cooper would have to sign both bills. He has expressed support for them. Sports betting could become legal as soon as Jan. 1.

“There’s momentum. There’s bipartisanship,” Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), who was one of the sponsors with Hardister of SB. 68, told WRAL. “We got folks, Republicans and Democrats, voting for and Republicans and Democrats voting against. I think the bill has momentum that we thought it would have.”