House Bill 347 advanced Tuesday through two more legislative committees en route to the North Carolina State Senate floor.
The Senate Finance Committee advanced an amended version of the bill that modified language surrounding the launch date, changed some language around tax revenue recipients and removed historical horse racing.
An hour later, the bill passed through the Senate Rules and Operations Committee.
Finance Committee introduces significant changes to the sports betting launch date
In an amendment that included changes to language surrounding tax revenue recipients and historical horse racing, the most significant change addressed a new launch date – or date range.
Sen. Tim Moffitt, R-Henderson, and staff introduced the amendment that included the following changes:
- Struck historical horse race betting from the bill
- Redirected $1 million in annual revenue to the Parks and Recreation Department for youth sports to the NC Amateur Youth Sports Department for the same purposes
- Renamed the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council to the Youth Outdoor Engagement Commission, which would receive grant money for amateur and youth sports
- Changed launch date language from “on or after Jan. 8, 2024,” to “on or after Jan. 8, 2024, however, sports wagering shall not be authorized in the State until a date identified by the [NC Lottery] Commission, which shall occur as soon as practicable and may be no later than twelve months after the date this act becomes law.”
The final change on the list is the most significant in the grand scheme. It gives the NC Lottery Commission, which will act as the sports betting regulator, more latitude to get North Carolina sports betting off the ground.
Revenue streams summarized and clarified; small business concerns voiced
Moffitt reported on the four licenses under HB 347 and the fees for each. Namely:
- Interactive sports wagering license ($1 million)
- Service Provider license ($50,000)
- Sports wagering supplier license ($30,000)
- Advanced deposit wagering license ($20,000)
He clarified that all four license fees are due upfront and, should the licensee not receive approval from the commission, 95% of the fee would be returned. The commission would keep the remaining 5% for costs associated with the assessment of applicants.
Moffitt also laid out the funding recipients for HB 347, which included youth sports departments, North Carolina universities, problem gambling research and the General Fund.
Sen. Ted Alexander, R-Cleveland, inquired about the estimated amount returned to the General Fund through sports betting, which Emma Turner, a legislative fiscal analyst for the bill, recounted as “$9.1 million in the first year to $43.4 million in the fifth year.”
She identified the overall net state impact after expenditures as $10 million in year one and $71 million in year five.
Public speakers for and against the bill all spoke in opposition
Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, who spoke against the bill in the Commerce Committee hearing, addressed the detriments to small businesses that this bill would create.
“Sports gaming competes with retail by taking discretionary income,” Creech said. “It could hurt small businesses and result in job cuts. Further, advertisements are commonly displayed everywhere, and retail small businesses can’t compete.”
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, who also spoke against the bill in Commerce, again addressed the “human cost” of gambling by listing a litany of social woes exacerbated by legal gambling. He offered a “conservative estimate” that “tens of thousands of North Carolinians would be victimized if gambling were legalized.”
Finance passes bill, but not unanimously
After questioning and public discourse, the Senate Finance Committee favorably reported HB 347 through a voice vote, but it was not unanimous.
Rules Committee last stop before Senate floor debate
HB 347 also passed through the Senate Rules and Operations Committee on Tuesday in its final committee stop.
Moffitt again introduced the bill to the Rules Committee, which sends legislation to the Senate calendar for floor debate. He took a stern approach in this hearing, stating that he’d been “wrestling with the bill for eight days” to get Senate improvements into the bill.
He also said he’d been ruminating over “temperance, prohibition laws and the 18th amendment” to show a need to face the issue of gambling earnestly.
“When faced with sports wagering in our state,” Moffitt said, “in order for us to manage what is occurring with a tremendous amount of frequency, we must regulate it to create a public benefit.”
Limited questions and comments in Rules
One question raised by Sen. Norman Sanderson, R-Carteret, addressed whether the funding to state universities would continue “in perpetuity,” which Moffitt addressed by saying the bill would be “as good as those of us who are here enacting it, but we can’t bind a future assembly.”
Creech and Rustin spoke again in opposition to the bill, with their final appeals touching on the broader issue of the dangers of gambling.
Creech commented on the revenue generated by the bill in stating that “doing harm should not be collateral damage for good to be done later.”
Rustin seconded the point raised by Creech in asking the rhetorical question, “What is the value of a human life?” and restated the same social ills – theft, embezzlement, job loss, abuse, suicide – introduced in his speech to the Finance Committee.
Rules favorably endorses HB 347; now to the Senate floor
In a week of swift and decisive action, the Senate Rules and Operations Committee became the third committee to favorably report on HB 347, including the significant amendments made to horse racing, launch date language and the exclusion of tax deductions for promotional credits.
The bill moves on to the Senate floor, where a similar body passed a similar bill last year. The Senate is next scheduled to convene at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday in Raleigh.
Should the Senate repeat its performance from last year, HB 347 will have to return to the House for concurrence on the numerous amendments made to the bill. Many of these amendments had been proposed in the House but were shot down. In a scenario where they are all that stands between passage of the bill, the House may take a more favorable view of them.
The Legislature has until Aug. 31 to decide on legal sports betting. A passed bill must be sent to Gov. Roy Cooper for approval. He has already indicated he would sign a sports betting bill.