Sports betting bill clears North Carolina Senate, heads back to House for likely final vote next week

Legalized sports gambling is inching closer to becoming a reality in North Carolina after the state Senate approved a measure to that end on Wednesday. The bill now returns to the House, which must decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes to its proposal or attempt to negotiate a compromise. The former seems a better bet, as the state House’s top leader said Thursday he expects his chambers to agree with the alterations.

House Speaker Tim Moore said he anticipated the House would formally vote to accept the Senate changes in two recorded votes next week. Should this occur, the final measure would go to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk, who has previously expressed support for legal sports betting.

Moore’s Thursday statements represented a change from what he initially told reporters on Wednesday. On that day, the top leader said he believed the House would likely formally reject the Senate’s option in an attempt to negotiate a compromise with Senate leaders, which he hoped would also permit non-tribal casinos in the state and legalize video gambling machines.

However, Rep. Jason Saine, a chief sponsor of the House proposal, said Wednesday that he would recommend to his colleague the Senate’s version, reports Associated Press. Senate leader Phil Berger also stated that he thought it best to finalize the sports gambling measure, which had support from House bill sponsors, before eyeing further gambling ideas. It is likely these moves helped Moore change his position.

Jason Saine

North Carolina’s sports betting plan allows online sports gambling on professional, college and other sports. The Lottery Commission can award up to 12 licenses for operators to take online sports bets for any adult located in North Carolina. 

In addition, eight facilities across the Tar Heel State could operate a sportsbook under the bill: PNC Arena in Raleigh, WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, Bank of America Stadium and Spectrum Center in Charlotte, Charlotte Motor Speedway, North Wilkesboro Speedway, Sedgefield Country Club and Quail Hollow Country Club. Each venue would be allowed to partner with one mobile operator, leaving at least four licenses for operators without in-state partners.

Operators would be charged an 18% tax on gross gaming revenue. The bill does not allow companies to deduct the cost of promotions or credits often used to get customers to sign up. Projections indicate North Carolina could receive $100 million in tax revenue by the 2027-28 fiscal year, as per the state’s fiscal research division. According to projections, more than $6.6 billion would be bet in North Carolina by the third year of legalization.

Among other changes, the Senate’s version added a provision to legalize wagering on horse racing. Moreover, it also allows anyone over 21 to bet on sports using cash at sports venues that would offer gambling, and not just through registered accounts online. And while a launch by January next year was initially in the plans, the Senate’s proposal lets regulators delay the opening until June 2024.

Casino gambling coming to NC?

Both Berger and Moore said this week that discussions were still happening about seeking the legalization of non-tribal casinos in rural or economically disadvantaged areas as jobs and revenue generators. The plan has gained traction after the opening of casinos in Virginia near the North Carolina border, including the debut in May of a temporary casino in Danville.

“Because the conversations are taking place, we’re a lot closer than we’ve ever been before,” Berger said, as per Associated Press, but noted “there are still some fairly significant hurdles” to create legislation in the final weeks of the General Assembly’s chief work session this year.

Caesars' temporary Danville casino in Virginia

North Carolina is seeing casino competition from Virginia as a result of 2020 legislation that allowed for five casinos to be built around the state. In addition to Danville, casinos have opened in Bristol and Portsmouth, and a fourth is moving forward in Norfolk. NC lawmakers believe that offering casinos on their side of the border could be a defensive measure against losing money to Virginia, while also gaining revenues from guests from other neighboring states.

According to gambling research released this year, commercial casinos built in Nash, Anson and Rockingham counties could generate almost $1.7 billion in gross wagering revenue annually, in addition to hundreds of millions in taxes.

Eyeing further gambling expansion, Moore said he is also interested in combining casino legislation with language to regulate and tax video poker machines, which are currently deemed illegal by state law.