The North Carolina House of Representatives is expected to vote by Wednesday on a bill that would legalize mobile sports betting in the state.
The bill appears to have plenty of momentum, having gained approval last week by a trio of House committees. The Senate passed its own sports betting bill in 2022, so it’s expected that chamber also would approve the bill.
If the bill becomes law, North Carolina sports betting could be up and running by Jan. 8, 2024.
No guarantees in the statehouse
Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has expressed his support publicly for legal and regulated mobile sports betting in the state, so what could go wrong?
Look no farther than last year, when a similar measure failed by a single vote after several lawmakers found harmony in expressing various concerns about the potential negative impact of sports betting legalization.
In echoes of debates that have taken place in numerous statehouses over the past five years, bill co-sponsors have noted illegal sports betting is already widespread in the state from a combination of “corner bookies” in local bars to offshore websites that attract many customers who aren’t even aware that such gambling is illegal in North Carolina.
Last week, proposed amendments to prohibit wagering on college sports and to ban betting via credit cards drew some support in the House before each amendment was rejected.
But as bill sponsor Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, put it to The Associated Press: “It is a new year, and we have new legislators.”
Potential sports betting taxes
Cooper’s state budget proposal includes a projection for the state to collect $60 million in sports betting tax revenue in the 2024-25 fiscal year – about triple what legislative tax analysts have projected.
New Jersey – a state with a smaller population than North Carolina – collected $97.9 million in sports betting taxes in 2022. But those residents historically have been far more eager to embrace new forms of gambling than those in North Carolina, and last year was the fourth full year of legal betting in New Jersey.
New Jersey prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court in May 2018 against the NFL and four other sports organizations that had sought to maintain what effectively had been a federal monopoly granted to Nevada for the wagering. In 2019, New Jersey collected $36.5 million in sports betting taxes.
What’s in the North Carolina sports betting bill?
House Bill 347 would set a sports betting tax rate of 14% – slightly below the national average and far short of the 51% tax rate approved in New York.
The North Carolina Lottery Commission, which would regulate sports betting, could issue up to 12 mobile sports betting licenses, not including any that could be approved for the state’s tribes.
A $1 million licensing fee would be required before approval. Mobile sportsbook operators would be unable to take bets from customers while they are located on tribal land at the state’s casinos.
North Carolina already has sports betting but with a catch. In 2021, two North Carolina tribal casinos – Harrah’s Cherokee and Harrah’s Cherokee Valley River – began offering legally approved sports betting.
Many North Carolinians are likely unaware of it, because the closer of the two Harrah’s casinos located in the far western corner of the state is more than 150 miles from the population centers of Charlotte and Winston-Salem, more than 200 miles from Greensboro and about 300 miles from Raleigh-Durham and Fayetteville.
Last year, the other North Carolina tribal casino – Catawba Two Kings Casino – launched sports betting at its Kings Mountain facility.
That location is a much more manageable 35 miles west of Charlotte, but it, too, is more than 100 miles away from the state’s other largely-populated cities.
Mobile sports betting dominates over the retail version in every state, with more than 90% of bets placed in several states that also offer retail sports betting. That’s why proponents of sports betting who see it as a significant new tax revenue opportunity are eager to legalize mobile sports betting.
Bill could pass to House by Wednesday
North Carolina’s sports betting bill is way ahead of schedule. That could be a great sign for supporters of the legislation.
The bill technically has until May 29 to cross over to the Senate, but that could happen two months early.
First, the bill has to make its way through the Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House Committee. That committee’s hearing for the bill will take place on March 28.
A full House vote for final approval could happen March 29.
If approved, the bill will be off to the Senate for the next round of approvals and hearings. North Carolina’s legislative session doesn’t end until late August, so the bill will have plenty of time to progress once it reaches the next chamber.