The North Carolina Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday supported a sports betting bill that awaited a legislative action for months.

The crucial committee voted favorably on Senate Bill 688, overcoming social conservatives who opposed the legalization of gambling, which they believe will increase addiction.

But the bill’s chief sponsor, Sen. Jim Perry, said the move will only regulate what’s already happening in the state. Perry was pointing toward the state residents who are already placing (unregulated) bets either online or through conventional bookies.

SB 688 would expand gambling options for North Carolinians by including mobile sports betting as well as through licensed physical venues where sports betting would happen through mobile apps.

The North Carolina tribes – which already have retail sports betting – will also be able to offer increased offerings.

The sponsor of the bill says sports betting could bring up to $50 million in economic benefits for Old North State. However, opponents say the measure could come with some social costs.

What Happened on Wednesday?

At Wednesday’s state Senate Finance Committee meeting, Jim Perry and Sen. Paul Lowe Jr. – the sponsors of SB 688 – presented the bill. Both supporters, who’re from the opposing parties, answered the questions from committee members.

Two members of the public raised objections to the bill.

A key question was also raised regarding the financial potential of the industry, which would levy an 8% tax rate.

Perry noted SB 688 would bring anywhere between $25 million to $50 million annually, depending on various factors that will determine the range of the projected figures.

‘Every Choice Has a Social Impact’

Perry justified expanded gambling in North Carolina in the face of opposition posed by those who raise social concerns. “There’s always a social impact to every choice,” Perry said, adding there’s even a price to be paid for freedom.

He said his mother doesn’t like the legislation, adding that he showed her how he (or anyone) can still place bets through unregulated sports betting sites today.

Perry said sports betting exists in North Carolina, it’s just not regulated and taxed by the state. The Republican lawmaker said he doesn’t want to put his head in the sand over that issue. He added he doesn’t want to belittle anyone who is not comfortable with it. But the fact that sports betting exists today cannot be ignored, he said.

Perry said it only makes sense to regulate the activity to promote transparency and generate revenue for the state for sectors like education.

What Does SB 688 Seek?

The bipartisan bill would direct the North Carolina Education Lottery commission to issue 10 to 12 mobile sports betting licenses, along with supplier licenses for those operators.

Betting would be allowed on college, professional, and some amateur sports, as well as game outcomes and others based on final scores.

The sportsbooks could also establish a physical betting location within or near a professional sports arena, like the Spectrum Center, or in places where a professional golf event is held annually.

Operators will have to pay the initial license fees of $500,000, and the state will levy an 8% tax on the licensed operators’ gross revenues.

Half of the net proceeds from sports betting would go to a special fund to pull sporting events, while the rest would be reimbursed to the state’s coffers.

According to the legislature’s fiscal staff, the state could draw somewhere between $8 million to $24 million from the industry annually if one bill version becomes law. There are two bills – SB 688 in the Senate and HB 631 in the House – almost identical to each other in each chamber.

So far, the Senate version – which was introduced in April – is taking lead on the issue.

As the Finance Committee has given the go-ahead, SB 688 now heads to the other Senate committees.

How Have We Reached Here?

As many as 20 states and the District of Columbia have legalized sports betting since US Supreme Court’s PASPA ruling in May 2018 paved the way for every state to regulate sports betting.

North Carolina legalized retail sports betting for two tribal casinos in July 2019. Nearly two years after Gov. Ray Cooper signed limited sports betting into law, Old North State saw its first legal sports bet placed in March 2021.

Although it has been nearly 16 years since North Carolina authorized a state-run lottery, some lawmakers still oppose expanded gambling. However, none of the committee members on Wednesday spoke directly against SB 688.

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