RALEIGH, N.C. — An effort to legalize sports gambling in North Carolina cleared the state Senate this week as legislation to authorize and regulate betting approaches the finish line.
The legislation passed in the Senate late Wednesday afternoon in a 38 to 11 vote. Unlike the version of the bill that passed the House in March, the Senate’s proposal also would authorize adults over 21 to bet on live horse racing in the state or elsewhere.
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The competing versions would direct the state Lottery Commission to issue a limited number of licenses to entities that could sign up bettors, who would create accounts to wager from mobile phones or computers or professional, college and Olympic-type athletics.
The Senate took a final vote on Thursday, and now, it’s up to the House to decide whether to accept the Senate’s changes or attempt to negotiate a compromise. The margin in support of sports wagering is narrower in the House than in the Senate. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has expressed support for sports wagering legislation.
About half of the states in the U.S. allow mobile or online sports betting. As the ninth-largest state, North Carolina is considered attractive to wagering operators and pro sports franchises that could stand to benefit financially.
Legal sports gambling in North Carolina is only available right now at three casinos operated by two American Indian tribes. Bill sponsors said other sports gambling is already happening underground and that regulating and taxing it is the best way to control it.
Both bills would permit sports wagering licensees to set up locations at or near stadiums and arenas, where account holders could watch games and make bets. But the Senate version also would allow anyone to make cash bets at a venue’s betting window, even without creating an account. Should the Senate’s version prevail, horse racing would be offered through licensees separate from sports wagering operators and different online accounts.
The Senate would tax sports wagering at a rate equal to 18% of their gross betting revenue minus winnings. The House would levy a similar 14% tax, with some adjustments. After expenses, legislative analysts estimate the state would take in $71 million annually by mid-2028 from both sports wagering and horse racing.
Much of the sports wagering tax revenues would go to local, regional and state athletics initiatives, athletic programs at most University of North Carolina system schools and problem-gambling programs.
Social conservatives and liberal Democrats have spoken out against sports wagering, saying that the damage caused by addictive behavior to individuals, families and society outweighs any financial benefits to the state. While this coalition helped block a sports wagering bill in the House last year, support for the expansion of gambling solidified in the chamber in 2023.
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