Legislation that would have allowed sports betting across North Carolina crumbled Wednesday night as the House narrowly rejected a key measure amid warnings about the dangers of gambling from an unusual coalition of social conservatives and liberal democrats.
The House voted 51 to 50 not to approve one of two measures that, combined, would have established the rules to license and regulate gambling at professional sporting events and out-of-state horse racing,
The outlook already looked shaky earlier Wednesday when the House voted by a similar 51-50 margin for an additional measure that would have primarily made changes to a comprehensive, separate bill unveiled last year that set out the structure of the conduct of sports betting. The additional measure related to how gambling license operators would have been taxed and where the profits went.
Several critics of the measures said state sanctioning of sports betting would create gambling addictions, leading to increased theft, embezzlement and people deep in debt.
“If you vote for this, you bet these two bills will control gambling, in North Carolina,” Rep. Jay Adams, a Republican from Catawba County, told his colleagues upstairs in the House. “It’s just another opportunity to create unfortunate opportunities for people who can’t resist.”
The first measure had already taken a hit when the chamber voted by a comfortable margin on an amendment to remove college sports from the list of games that customers online or in person could have bet on.
Rep. Jason Saine, a Lincoln County Republican who led the measures in the House this week, pointed out that the additional measure survived a floor vote, so the idea of the game “isn’t totally dead”. But the working session of the General Assembly should end at the end of next week.
“It could resurface depending on what happens. Otherwise, sports betting will remain a problem for the state of North Carolina because … the states around us are doing it,” Saine said afterwards.
Sports betting took off in the United States after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. Twenty states and the District of Columbia now offer mobile sports betting, including neighboring states of Virginia and Tennessee, according to the ‘American Gaming Association, while 28 states and DC offer in-person betting. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened on-site betting operations last year at its two casinos in far western North Carolina thanks to prior legislation.
Wednesday’s loss also means uncertainty over whether the state Senate and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who had said he was ready to sign sports betting legislation, would be willing to accept less than the compromise unveiled this week. week. More than half of Senate Republicans voted against the comprehensive measure passed by their chamber last August.
GOP Rep. Jeffrey Elmore of Wilkes County appears to have been the deciding vote on Wednesday. While Elmore voted for the additional measure, he voted no on the more comprehensive second bill, according to House records. Elmore did not immediately respond to a phone message left at his legislative office.
Nearly a fifth of the House’s 120 members did not vote, with or without a formal excuse of absence – a sign of how tentative the vote count was.
Proponents of the bill said residents of the state already participate in illegal sports betting through offshore online websites or local bookmakers, and that it is best for the state to control the activity and the tax.
North Carolina, the ninth most populous state, is currently an untapped market with several major league sports franchises, college basketball, NASCAR and golf.
The measures would have authorized the issuance of 10 to 12 interactive sports betting operator licenses as well as vendor and service provider licenses. People 21 and older within state limits could have played on their phones or computers starting in January. NASCAR tracks, golf courses, arenas and stadiums where professional sports take place could have in-person or nearby betting venues if the legislation were successful.
The legislation also contained $2 million for problem gambling programs.
“I certainly understand the concerns of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, but I also disagree with them,” said Rep. Wesley Harris, a Mecklenburg County Democrat who backed the measures. “The black market exists and people are already playing. But there are no regulations and there is no help for these people.
The supplemental bill also contained sweeteners on how the state’s share would have been distributed. Net proceeds would have benefited the county’s youth athletic programs, athletic departments at seven UNC system campuses, and efforts to bring sporting events and attractions to the state.