Close-up on a man betting online on a sports app on his cell phone. (Photo: Getty Images)
In a world in which safe bets are few and far between, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) liked his odds Wednesday when House Bill 347 topped the House Calendar.
The Sports Wagering/Horse Racing bill that he filed in mid-March had made its way through numerous committees, both chambers of the General Assembly, and now was back for one final vote.
Saine was so confident with the outcome, he did not object to a final word of warning from four House Democrats who wanted to be heard on the bill. A day earlier, Saine maneuvered to make the motion on second reading non-debatable.
Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford) said while improvements had been made on the bill to legalize online betting, several problems remained.
Harrison argued that while the bill would require licensed operators to pay 18% of their gross gaming revenue to the state, the state constitution caps the income tax rate at 7%.
“What happens if the 18% income tax is challenging in state court is thrown out and then we don’t even have the revenue from the income tax to fund the oversight? So that’s a problem.”
Harrison said she was also very troubled with the return of horse racing to the bill.
“It was deliberately taken out in the House and now it’s back in the Senate. And I will just cite to you all that Churchill Downs shut down because of 12 deaths in the last five weeks, seven of which occurred in the week before the Kentucky Derby. This is an inhumane, terrible, terrible industry.”
Rep. Harrison also questioned who had sufficient knowledge to oversee that part of the bill.
“It would have been nice to have some more thorough debate, and I don’t know if the Lottery Commission isn’t actually going to regulate horse racing or if they’re even qualified to regulate horse racing.”
Rep. Abe Jones (D-Wake) said as a family man, he could not support legalizing an industry that would lead so many to financial ruin.
“There are people out there who are weak, who will go gamble, and won’t protect their family. We should protect those families,” said Jones.
Jones likened the online sports wagering industry to cockfighting and other unsavory ventures.
“They need to stay out of here, they’re going to hurt people.”
It’s projected the state could see more than $100 million dollars from this type of gambling by 2028.
Rep. John Autry (D-Mecklenburg) never supported the bill when it was introduced in the House, and said it only got worse when the legislation moved to the upper chamber.
“One of the things about the House version of the bill was the ban on betting during college sports events for eight hours prior to those events and on the property of those events,” Autry reminded his colleagues. “The Senate version removes that prohibition on sports wagering at a sports facility during or eight hours prior to a college game being played at the facility or the adjacent to that facility.”
Just another bad bill that got a little bit worse when it went to the Senate, Autry said.
Wednesday’s final appeal came from Rep. Marcia Morey, a former Olympic swimmer, who argued the bill would hurt the integrity of pure sports.
“People will be now more interested in the spread than they will in the victory or the defeat. I think it’s a sad day for athletes and a sad day for people that will become addicted,” warned the Durham County Democrat.
Morey also worried that the bill only sets aside $2 million a year for addiction treatment: “We’re going to need a lot more.”
The final vote for concurrence on HB 347 was 69-44, sending the legislation to the governor’s desk. With Gov. Roy Cooper’s signature, mobile sports betting could begin as soon as January.
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