Sports betting legislation defied the odds by getting through the North Carolina Senate, but its next test may be more difficult.
The NC Senate passed SB 688 Thursday by a vote of 26-19. That came one day after a preliminary second reading vote of 26-21.
The bill allows for between 10 and 12 mobile sports betting licenses, with participation of major professional sports teams.
Sports betting legislation advances to the NC House, which sponsors believe will be the more difficult chamber for passage. It then needs the signature of Gov. Roy Cooper, who expressed support for legalizing mobile sports wagering.
North Carolina already has retail sports betting at two Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians tribal casinos. These brands would have the opportunity to participate in mobile wagering as well.
Exception made for NC sports betting bill to pass
Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger brought the sports wagering legislation to a vote despite it lacking majority support among Republicans.
Only 10 of the 28 Republicans supported the bill, while 16 voted against it. Two were absent.
Typically in North Carolina, and most state legislatures, floor leaders don’t bring bills up for a vote unless they have support among the majority party.
Speaking to PlayTenn after passage, bill sponsor Sen. Jim Perry explained that even though the official Republican votes don’t indicate it, the caucus made a majority decision as a group to go ahead with the legislation.
He intimated that some Republicans passively supported the bill but didn’t want to vote for it.
“I wouldn’t want to ask some of my colleagues to vote for this, where as a whip I may normally ask folks to vote for something they don’t entirely love,” Perry said. “It’s a non-traditional bill, so of course it departs from tradition.”
Democrats carried the bill across the finish line with 16 yes votes against five no.
Religious group opposition remains obstacle
Some of the lack of official Republican support is due to religious groups lobbying against the bill.
Perry pushed for sports wagering legislation with the goal of preventing property tax increases on NC farms. The bill earmarks sports betting revenue to go toward education and schools.
Perry projects the state will make between $25 million and $50 million annually from mobile sports wagering.
“Prohibition doesn’t work,” Perry said on the floor Wednesday. “We know that activity takes place today, whether we like it or not.”
Surprisingly, no lawmakers spoke out against the bill for moral/religious grounds on the floor.
Sen. Jim Burgin said he opposed sports wagering because it produces little money and targets young people.
There was no discussion on the floor Thursday before the final vote.
Details of North Carolina sports betting bill
Perry and Sen. Paul Lowe introduced SB 688 in mid-April. It sat for more than four months before Perry, the majority whip, got it going in August.
- Appoints the North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) to oversee sports betting.
- Instructs the NCEL to issue between 10 and 12 mobile sports betting licenses.
- Allows the owner or operator of sports facilities that host professional sports games with a capacity of 17,000 or more to place sports betting lounges at or within a quarter mile of the facility.
- Initial fee of $500,000 for a five-year license, renewable for $100,000.
- Tax rate of 8%.
- Allows wagering on college sports.
- Mandates operators use official league data for in-play wagers.
Changes made on Senate floor
Perry added an amendment on the Senate floor with a few small changes and some technical ones.
The biggest addition is that a professional golf tournament with more than 50,000 live spectators anticipated to attend can have a sports wagering lounge.
The Department of Health and Human Services now gets $1 million annually for gambling addiction education and treatment programs.
Perry also pushed back the effective date of the law two months to Jan. 1, 2022.
Path forward for North Carolina sports betting
Sports betting legislation now heads to the House, where it has a strong champion in Rep. Jason Saine. He chairs the House Appropriations Committee.
Saine previously explained that he and Perry made a strategic choice to start the bill in the Senate to gain momentum for the House, meaning House passage would be more difficult.
Saine failed in efforts to pass a fantasy sports bill in the House in previous years. However, he said that the makeup of the chamber changed recently due to some retirements. He added that many members want to capture the sports betting revenue from North Carolinians wagering in Tennessee.
“Nobody likes to lose out to your competitor no matter what it is,” Saine said. “We’re not hurting for revenue in North Carolina. But allowing it to go on a few short miles into Tennessee and knowing part of that revenue can be captured over here I think is a wake-up call to a lot of legislators.”
The North Carolina legislature doesn’t have a strict end date for the legislative session. If the House passes sports betting legislation, Perry said he thinks it would have to be done by the end of October.