North Carolina’s sports betting legislation, House Bill 347, addresses responsible gaming in two key ways: it directs $2 million annually from sports betting tax revenue to the Department of Health and Human Services for gambling addiction education and treatment programs, and it sets advertising parameters for sportsbook operators.
The bill rapidly cleared the House and sits in a Senate committee. Last year, similar legislation passed the state Senate smoothly but came up one vote short in the House. With the House already on board this year, North Carolina sports betting proponents hope the legislation can advance to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for his signature.
Cooper has said he would sign a sports betting bill into law, so with the runway cleared, lawmakers are left to ensure that the finer points of the bill, including the way it handles problem gambling, create the best legal sports betting market for North Carolinians.
Lawmakers expect legislation to bring sports betting “into the light”
In the House, HB 347 had 55 co-sponsors – 45% of all representatives.
“There’s no reason for North Carolina to be sitting on the sidelines, especially in such a sports-rich state and a growing state,” Rep. Zach Hawkins, one of the bill’s sponsors, told WCNC-TV, Charlotte’s NBC affiliate. “Our job is to make sure that we take it from the dark and bring it into the light. Make it legal. Give them consumer protections.”
Part of consumer protection, of course, is providing funding for responsible gambling in North Carolina, and, more specifically, finding an appropriate agency to receive the funding. In North Carolina, that agency is the Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
North Carolina Problem Gambling Program educates youth and adults
Within the NCDHHS, the North Carolina Problem Gambling Program (NCPGP) provides and supports effective problem gambling prevention, education, outreach and treatment services throughout North Carolina.
According to the agency’s website, the program is designed to “improve the mental health and overall well-being of every North Carolina resident affected by problem gambling and create statewide awareness of problem gambling as an addiction.”
The state administrator and prevention coordinator have offices in the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Substance Abuse Services.
A unique aspect of North Carolina’s effort to lessen the negative impacts of state-authorized gambling is the program’s offering of mini grants (up to $5,000) available to middle and high schools to present “Stacked Deck,” a curriculum for problem gambling prevention among teens and young adults.
More than 40 middle and high schools in North Carolina already are using the Stacked Deck curriculum, and the legalization of sports betting would undoubtedly lead to a significant increase.
Scholarships are also available for teachers, guidance counselors and administrators to receive training on the Stacked Deck curriculum. Those scholarships have previously covered room and board, tuition and on-campus meals for program attendees.
Advertising requirements narrow target of sportsbook ads
Along with education through youth programs, the bill also sets specific requirements for operators regarding who they can target in advertisements.
The language of the bill states, “In advertising its sports wagering platform, the interactive sports wagering operator shall ensure that its advertisements meet all of the following requirements:
(1) It does not target persons under the age of 21.
(2) It discloses the identity of the interactive sports wagering operator.
(3) It provides information about or links to resources related to gambling addiction and prevention.
(4) It is not misleading to a reasonable person.”
Where North Carolina could do more to protect consumers
Other states allow customers to make wagers via credit cards, and North Carolina has taken the same approach. This presents a risk of gamblers betting more than they can afford, saddling them with high-interest credit card debt whenever their bets fare poorly.
Some credit card issuers treat gambling transactions as “cash advances,” meaning they charge an upfront fee and set an interest rate in the range of 25%.
New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Tennessee forbid using credit to place bets.
House lawmakers, led by Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, raised concerns about paying for bets with credit cards. Harrison even introduced amendments to cancel that provision in the bill, but those amendments failed.
One state’s model that North Carolina could explore, surprisingly, is Georgia.
The Peach State failed to legalize sports betting in this year’s legislative session, but a Georgia bill received kudos from the National Council on Problem Gambling. Senate Bill 172, sponsored by Georgia Sen. Bill Cowsert, made extensive efforts to ensure that Georgians didn’t overspend on gambling, and the NCPG extended its appreciation in a committee hearing for Cowsert’s efforts.
Along with excluding or discouraging credit card payments, Georgia’s bill created self-exclusion lists and self-imposed “cool off” periods. It proposed a monthly spending cap that a bettor would have to receive approval from state regulators to raise.
Efforts such as these would make sense considering HB 347’s investment in responsible gambling education.
Sports betting legislation should pick up steam soon
Now that the North Carolina Legislature’s crossover deadline has passed, the Senate can turn its attention to bills that crossed over from the House, including HB 347.
In the coming weeks, expect to see HB 347 receive committee attention and advance to the Senate floor for debate. The Legislature has until Aug. 31 to conclude its business, so there’s still plenty of time for lawmakers to get legal sports betting across the finish line in the Tar Heel State.