NC Lawmakers Likely to Approve Long-Awaited Sports Betting Bill

Place your wager! Online sports betting may soon be legal in North Carolina, ushering in a thrilling new industry for our state. 

Whether you’re a diehard fan or a casual “yay sports” kind of viewer, the next time you and your friends gather for a big game you might be able to make things more interesting by hopping on your phone and putting a little money on the line—legally.  

After being defeated in the state House of Representatives last year by only one vote (!), North Carolina’s long-awaited sports betting bill is set to be filed this week for another shot at approval. If it passes—and the odds look promising—mobile betting on college and professional sports could potentially go live in our state within the next few months.     

“We’d like to get it done this year,” says Rep. Jason Saine, who represents the 97th North Carolina House District and has been focused on the issue of legalizing online sports wagering for the better part of two years. “I’ve got three other co-sponsors I’m working with: Republican House Majority Leader John Bell; and two Democrats, Zack Hawkins from Durham and Ashton Clemmons from Greensboro.”  

“It’s a bipartisan effort,” he continues. “You really have members of both parties in support. Of course there’s some opposition, but I think this time we should have enough votes.”

Even the governor has expressed optimism about the bill’s outcome. “I think it’s going to pass from what I hear,” Gov. Roy Cooper shared at a recent Carolina Hurricanes fan event, according to Bet Carolina. “We’re working with trying to make sure we get good legislation that is fair to the taxpayers, but also recognizes something that’s going on anyway. So, we might as well get benefits for our schools and for our state out of it. So, we’ll see how it goes.”

“He’s been supportive,” adds Saine regarding the governor. “He’s weighed in on it. We’ve listened to some of the tweaks and things he wants to do to the bill, so we’ve incorporated that into the process as well.”

The benefits of legalizing mobile sports betting are multifold. “One, it stops revenue we’re losing to other states,” explains Saine. “Virginia has sports betting. We see a lot of our folks in North Carolina traveling short distances across the border and placing bets. That’s really revenue the state’s not realizing. It also means we’re helping to fund Virginia’s schools, Virginia’s roads and everything else Virginia pays for.” He notes that with a sports betting bill imminent in South Carolina as well, “we could essentially be surrounded by states who have sports betting, and that really would be a loss of revenue for our state.”

Exactly how much revenue are we talking about here? Saine predicts the mobile sports betting industry in North Carolina could bring in anywhere from a whopping $30 to $60 million, but “that’s a conservative estimate,” he says. “It could be as much as $100 million. It’s kind of hard to measure since we don’t have it yet and because it’s kind of an underground market at this point, but our hope is that we start to capture that market.” Cha-ching!

Second, a portion of the money raised from online sports gambling will be used to bolster—what else?—North Carolina sports, primarily supporting the athletic departments at HBCUs as well as shoring up youth athletic programs throughout the state. “In the spirit of sports, we want to make sure we’re seeing a more active populace—getting people outside, getting people more engaged,” Saine says. “We think that’s important.”   

Finally, although it may seem counterintuitive, the legalization of sports betting actually provides an opportunity to curb problem gambling and confront gambling addiction. “My counter to those who are opposed and worried about people who do gamble is, until we get it out in the open and understand exactly to what extent we have people sports betting in North Carolina, we’re really not doing those people who have problems any favors whatsoever,” Saine shares. “We’re really doing them a disservice because we’re kind of keeping them underground and not getting them the help they need.”

Once the bill is filed, Saine explains, it will pass through multiple committees before it hits the House floor for a vote. “I’d anticipate by the end of March we’ll have it out of the House and then the Senate will take it up,” he offers. Perhaps by late spring we’ll know the fate of the bill that has sports betting enthusiasts across the state hoping for a W.

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Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.