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Will North Carolina’s Long-Delayed Sports Betting Package Go Online?

  • Companion bills in NC House and Senate aim to legalize online wagering
  • NC legalized in-person sports wagering for tribal facilities in 2019 (didn’t go live until 2021)
  • Companion bills have bipartisan support, but might not meet deadlines

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Earlier Attempts at Wagering Took Two Years to Take Effect

Though North Carolina voted to legalize in-person sports wagering at two tribal facilities under the provisions of SB 154 in 2019, there were still two roadblocks in the way: regulation and tribal compacts. As things progressed in the NC Legislature, the bill to regulate and license sports wagering through a newly-created Gaming Commission fizzled out. The Lottery Commission took the reins while tribal leaders and state legislators attempted to eke out a deal.

Pandemic woes and other delays made it so an agreement to amend tribal compacts wasn’t reached until the end of 2020. In the United States and tribes can come to agreements and change their tribal compacts, but the Department of the Interior still needs to give the changes federal approval, delaying the process further. Long story short, the bill authorizing the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) to offer in-person sports wagering was signed into law in summer 2019, but wouldn’t take effect until early spring 2021.

Senate & House Bills Aim to Legalize Online Wagering in NC

Only a few months into legalized in-person wagering in the Tarheel State, lawmakers noted that offering so-called “statewide” (read: online) wagering would be the most comprehensive way to recoup funds lost to out-of-state or offshore gambling. Rep. Jason Sains (R), the sponsor of the House’s Bill 631, says:

By not legalizing statewide sports betting, we’re not preventing anyone from gambling (…) We’re just shifting dollars. We can recoup some of those dollars and not let money go to other states or offshore sites.

Similarly, one of the sponsors of SB 688 (the companion to the House bill), Senator Jim Perry (D) has been quoted as saying:

There is a lot of frustration with the illegal gambling and gaming. Those folks aren’t paying income taxes and the bookies aren’t generating fees like we do off the lottery to help the schools.

SB 688 / HB 631 aims to recoup those lost funds and redirect the money towards school construction expenses, with the bipartisan-supported package expected to pull in around $50 million in annual revenue. Expert opinions are in line with these lawmakers, who all indicate that North Carolinians are indeed spending their money on offshore and out-of-state gambling whether or not lawmakers like it.

What’s Next for Online Sports Betting in North Carolina?

SB 688 will likely be the bill to move forward in the North Carolina legislature. The bill has bipartisan support and sponsorship from some powerful players in the government, with Majority Leader Sen. Kathy Harrington (R) being a sponsor of the Senate’s wagering package.

The companion bill, HB 631, was recently pulled by Rep. Sains in order to allow the Senate to finalize discussions on SB 688, stating “I think we’re pretty close to starting to get that bill moving in the Senate.”

What’s next? Lawmakers need to move on SB 688 before the end of the session in July. Sains may refile his House Bill if it seems like online sports wagering can get the proper support, but it may not be necessary if the nearly-identical SB 688 can make it all the way to Governor Roy Cooper (D)’s desk.

Whether that will happen in a timely manner remains to be seen, but there is some hope: there is time for discussing the sports wagering package now that NC lawmakers have released their budget agreement for the upcoming year, and the bill has good support on both sides of the aisle. Fingers crossed.

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