RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The North Carolina House, which in 2022 had narrowly defeated an effort to legalize sports gambling, took its first steps to reverse its field.

The House on Tuesday afternoon approved by a vote of 66-45 the second reading of House Bill 347. There remains one more vote – perhaps on Wednesday – before the measure moves to the Senate and perhaps the eventual signature of Gov. Roy Cooper.

The bill, like its predecessors, had a wide split in bipartisan support and opposition, but in the end, the lure of big money outweighed any of the many arguments.

One of the bill’s chief critics, state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro), doubled down on her opposition, speaking at length during debate before the first amendment dropped, questioning the bill’s constitutionality, its propriety and calling it a “bad bill.”

Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County), one of its four bipartisan sponsors – Rep. Ashton Cooper (D-Greensboro) is another – made a long speech about the advantages of the bill, citing revenue earned in New Jersey and Tennessee, by example, and suggesting North Carolina at 14% could earn $60 million to $80 million annually.

He cited the advantages of control under legal gambling, the revenue assistance to state universities and the controls included in the bill.

House Bill 347, moved through three committees in two days last week and on Tuesday without comment was approved by the House Rules Committee. It arrived unexpectedly on the House floor at the end of the scheduled 3 p.m. session and evolved into hours of debate and some eight amendments. House Speaker Tim Moore recused himself and turned the gavel over to Rep. Destin Hall (R-Watauga).

Many spoke from the perspective of personal observation and experience, of what it means for children and athletes and the many perennial complaints about gambling that you can imagine. Harrison often is concerned about gambling addiction people.

There were several amendments considered and voted down during committee hearings – including five proposed by Harrison – and those subjects returned to the floor during the general session.

House members in various votes denied amendments (by wide margins) to exclude college sports, to increase licensing fees (to $10 million) and tax rates (to 51%), to delay online gambling for two years (because of workload and other states’ issues), to ban amateur and Olympic sports, to ban credits/free wagers to lure sports gamblers, to prohibit family members from betting on the participation of other family members and to place larger fines on violations of advertising violations.

Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Greensboro) speaks against the bill during debate on the House floor on Tuesday. (WGHP)

The Senate likely would give the bill a favorable view, and Cooper likes the idea so much that he included $85 million in revenue in the budget proposal he sent to lawmakers a couple of weeks ago.

But expanded gambling has an ardent opponent in Harrison, who last week in the Judiciary1 Committee offered five amendments – all of which were defeated, though one point was conceded – and has continued to pursue her argument that the bill will cause gambling addiction.

Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln County), one of four bipartisan sponsors, pitches the sports gambling bill in the House Rules Committee on March 28. (WGHP)

“I’m still very much against this proposal,” Harrison said last week. “It’s pretty much the same bill as last year. I feel very strongly about this. … It’s bad policy to depend on pro sports gambling for revenue. This is a terrible way to raise revenue. There is nothing good about this.”

The letter from Johns Hopkins

On Monday night, Harrison shared with members of the House a letter she and state Rep. Marcia Morey (D-Durham), the House Democratic whip, had received in response to questions they had sent to the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In that response, Joshua M. Sharfstein, vice dean of public health practice, addressed questions about:

  • How gambling addiction compares to alcohol addiction.
  • How common gambling addiction is.
  • Recommended treatments and societal costs.
  • The propensity for young adults to engage and suffer from gambling-related disorders.

Sharfstein described how the fifth edition of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders” had recategorized gambling disorder from an “impulse control disorder” to a “substance-related and addictive disorder.”

He wrote that “the National Council on Problem Gambling estimates that 2 million U.S. adults have a gambling disorder, with another 4 to 6 million having mild to moderate gambling problems, but not meeting the threshold of a gambling disorder diagnosis.” The estimation is that problem gambling in the U.S. costs $7 billion per year.

In 2022, the report states, Jonathan Noel and his colleagues published a study of problem gambling among adults aged 18 to 25 in Rhode Island, where gambling is limited to two casinos. The study, conducted in 2020, found that 22.4% engaged in one or more gambling activities and 11.5% had some form of gambling problems, five times the national estimate.

The report said that “the odds of gambling activities in this group were higher among those who identify as Black, Indigenous and people of color. … Individuals who engaged with sports betting had 2.4 times the odds of having problems with gambling.”

Harrison’s email to members of the House said that “We think you may find the information informative as you consider your vote on H327.”

The bill

The bill, which has had wide bipartisan support, just as the version did in 2022, would allow online betting on pro, electronic and amateur sports. Up to 12 companies would be licensed at $1 million each to operate in the state, and their revenue would be taxed at a 14% rate, potentially generating tens of millions of dollars in new state income. The bill provides revenue for HBCUs and for youth sports leagues and facilities and grants for communities that want to host events.

Amendments are expected to add more universities – including UNC-Greensboro – to the list of HBCUs that could derive revenue from the state’s cut and to remove greyhound racing as an acceptable form of parimutuel gambling.

A new look at advertising

There are 33 states with live, legal sports gambling, americangaming.org reports. North Carolina is included on that list because the state has four licensed casinos on Indigenous Peoples’ property – two in Cherokee, one in Murphy and one in King’s Mountain.

Three states have legalized gambling but are not yet operational, and nine have active ballot initiatives, which include South Carolina and Georgia. There is no legislation in five states, which include California and Alabama.

One of Harrison’s big complaints has been about how advertising lures young gamblers. New regulations announced Thursday could address some of those.

The American Gaming Association told The Associated Press that “the U.S. gambling industry is adopting a new responsible marketing code that will ban sports books from partnering with colleges to promote sports wagering, bar payments to college and amateur athletes for using their name, image or likeness, and end the use of the terms ‘free’ or ‘risk-free’ to describe promotional bets.”

The report said that criticism of the gambling industry from regulators and those who treat gambling addiction had led several states to outlaw some partnerships and to take “a renewed look at overall sports betting advertising.”