RALEIGH, N.C. (WGHP) – The most recent effort to legalize online sports betting in North Carolina is one step closer to being a sure winner.

In a packed meeting room on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee made a couple of side bets and then pushed along House Bill 347, which provides the opportunity to wager on all sorts of sports through companies that would buy licenses from the state to operate betting facilities.

Sports gambling is seen as a big revenue producer for the state – with a $1 million licensing fee for 10 to 12 betting rooms and then an 18% “privilege tax” on income – although the Senate did not include any of that possible revenue in its recent budget bill (the House had).

A packed meeting of the NC Senate Commerce and Insurance Committee on Wednesday moved along House Bill 347, which licenses sports betting. (WGHP)

Some of that revenue would be earmarked for historically Black colleges and universities, would provide funds to treat gambling addiction, create a grant program for parks and recreation departments in all 100 counties to buy equipment and build facilities and create a program to attract tournaments and events.

HB 347 had passed the House on March 29 in a vote of 64-45, with 11 members not participating. There were 30 Democrats who voted for the bill, and 20 Republicans voted against it.

The 18% rate is higher than the 14% that the House approved – which its sponsor, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln), said could earn $60 million to $80 million annually for the state – because of an amendment presented by Sen. Jim Perry (R-Beaufort),

Perry also added horse racing to the pari-mutuel entities listed in the bill. There are no horse tracks in North Carolina, so for now the bill would allow simulcast wagering at off-track-betting facilities that constitute video gambling.

“We often lag behind the rest of the nation,” Sen. Timothy Moffitt (R-Henderson) said in pitching the bill to the committee. “But folks in North Carolina are participating. … Betting on sports in our state is occurring, and in order to benefit from that betting, we need to pass this bill.

“This isn’t legalizing it [sports betting] as such, as it is taking place. We are taxing for public benefit.”

Wednesday’s approval returns HB 347 to the Senate Rules Committee, which could move it to the floor for a full vote within the next week. If the Senators approve this version, the House would have to OK changes from its original before moving the bill to Gov. Roy Cooper, who has voiced support.

But you may recall that last summer a similar bill that was created in the Senate failed in a very close vote in the House. Senate Bill 38, which adapted a bill already passed narrowly by the Senate (SB 688), escaped its second reading in the House, 51-50 (with 19 members not even voting), before being sent back to the Rules Committee, where it died as the session ended.

During Wednesday’s hearing, two members of the public spoke against the bill, one citing the expansion of gambling addiction that would be a byproduct of greater exposure and the other preaching against gambling as sinful under the Bible.

Michael Garrett
State Sen. Michael Garrett

State Sen. Michael Garrett (D-Greensboro), one of five senators from the Triad serving on this committee, asked a question to ensure that the distributions for gambling addiction remained in the bill, which had been a significant focus of opposition by state Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford).

He also asked if the “privilege tax” did not violate the constitutional amendment passed in 2018 to cap the income tax rate at 7% and then whether there ever had been a court challenge to that amendment because of a privilege tax. He was told no in both cases.

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.