Smart phones make it easy to place wagers in online casinos and sporting events. Photo: Getty Images
Legislation that would allow North Carolinians to place bets on professional and college sports as well as horse racing won final approval (37-11) in the state Senate Thursday.
The measure drew both bipartisan support and opposition.
Sen. Jim Burgin joined Democrats to speak against the bill. He dismissed the argument that the state was losing out on revenue from sports gambling that was happening in other states or off the books.
“It’s been said that there’s already $1 billion being illegally bet. Why don’t we tax that?”
The Harnett County Republican said the legislation exploits the poor while convincing others they can gain instant wealth.
He said a friend recently confided in him that his girlfriend used his debit card for online betting and subsequently lost $25,000.
“People lose their homes, spouses and kids over gambling addiction. Gambling can be just as addictive as drugs and alcohol,” Burgin cautioned during Wednesday’s floor debate.
Senator Julie Mayfield (D-Buncombe) said the bill takes the state in the wrong direction at a time when North Carolina is coping with a mental health crisis.
“Gambling is the only addictive disorder that is based on behavior and not an outside substance,” Mayfield said. “If we could go back and put stricter guardrails on the use of opioids, we certainly would. If we could go back and reduce access to tobacco and save all the lives that have been lost to cancer, we probably would.”
Mayfield said while most people can place a wager responsibly, the industry was counting on those who could not control their behavior. Problem gamblers generate up to 60% of gambling revenues.
“And we are now talking about putting a casino in everybody’s pocket that they can access 24-7, 365,” said Mayfield. “Even with the promise revenue of this bill, it is beyond me why we would legalize a business model that succeeds only when individuals fail.”
Senator Lisa Grafstein dismissed the claims by supporters that House Bill 347 would bring uniform regulations to an unregulated landscape.
“Right now, it’s only those who are really specifically motivated and have the technological savvy who are able to, who are able to bet illegally. And once ads are everywhere, and there’s an easy way for even the most technologically unsophisticated among us, such as myself, to bet on our phones, those numbers are just going to skyrocket.”
The Wake County Democrat argued the state would be creating more gambling opportunities with few meaningful regulations for the companies raking in the money.
“The commission that’s created is specifically forbidden from setting parameters around minimum or maximum payouts or bets. There’s no limit to how skewed the odds can be,” Sen. Grafstein warned. “The bill says that the operator is supposed to protect private data, including financial data, and to disallow ineligible players, which of course means people underage. But the standard that is applied is — ‘commercially reasonable effort’ — for doing those things and for detecting suspicious or illegal wagering.
So under the terms of the bill itself, you don’t actually have to prevent those things and you get to police yourself by whatever you deem to be commercially reasonable efforts.”
Grafstein tried on Thursday to amend the bill to state if any section was declared unconstitutional or invalid by the courts, the remainder of the bill would be unenforceable.
That amendment was quickly tabled by Sen. Ralph Hise, making it non-debatable.
Under HB 347, the Lottery Commission would be tasked with oversight and could award up to 12 licenses for operators under the bill. Those operators would pay 18% of their gross gaming revenue to the state.
Several lawmakers found HB 347 more palatable than past bills in part because it allocated proceeds to the athletic departments at colleges and universities in their home districts.
The following schools would receive $300,000 annually for their athletic programs: Appalachian State, East Carolina, Elizabeth City State, Fayetteville State, North Carolina A&T, North Carolina Central, UNC-Asheville, UNC-Charlotte, UNC-Greensboro, UNC-Pembroke, UNC-Wilmington, Western Carolina and Winston-Salem State. One million dollars would be earmarked annually for the North Carolina Outdoor Heritage Advisory Council for local and regional grants.
Two million dollars would be allocated annually to the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide treatment resources and education for gambling addiction.
The legislation now moves back to the NC House to iron out difference between the Senate’s latest version and the bill that the House passed in late March.
The House is also considering legislation that would authorize video gambling machines with the Lottery Commission in charge of enforcement.
Governor Roy Cooper has indicated his supports for the sports-wagering legislation.
You can read the latest version of the 31-page bill here.
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