RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – The state Senate approved a bill to legalize sports betting in North Carolina Thursday in a 26-19 vote, sending it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.
Republican Senate leaders took the unusual step of bringing the bill up for a vote this week despite the fact that most members of their own party opposed it.
During Thursday’s vote, nine Republicans voted in favor of the bill while 15 voted against it.
“I’ve seen what’s been going on in other states as far as sports wagering. It’s one of those things that’s there whether we take this step or not,” said Republican Senate leader Phil Berger (R).
On the Democratic side, 17 members voted in favor of it while four opposed it.
John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, has been an outspoken opponent of the bill, urging the legislature not to expand legalized gambling.
“All of those social issues, those problems that come along with gambling are what we’re truly concerned about,” he said. “Obviously because it’s a gambling bill, there is massive financial interest behind this legislation.”
Sen. Jim Perry (R-Lenoir), one of the lead sponsors of the bill, has been showing other members how easy it is currently for anyone to go online and place bets. Nearby states, including Virginia and Tennessee, already have legalized sports betting.
He said it makes sense for North Carolina to regulate it and generate tax revenue. He’d like to see that money targeted to low-income school districts, though he said current legislators can’t tie the hands of future legislators when it comes to earmarking that money.
“This was a tough topic,” Perry said, acknowledging the concerns that many of his fellow Republicans raised about the bill. Perry has said previously his own mother told him she doesn’t support it.
“Absent a new idea of how to offset some of the costs, I look at this as more of a voluntary tax,” he said. “I believe I owe it to the people I represent to try to find alternative means to try to meet the needs of the community.”
Perry said based on the varied estimates for how much money the bill would generate for the state, he believes ultimately it would be about $40 million to $50 million per year.
A recent nonpartisan analysis by staff at the legislature estimated it would actually bring in between $8 million and $24 million.
The bill as it’s currently written calls for an 8-percent tax in addition to fees assessed to companies. Between 10 to 12 licenses would be granted, a number that Perry called “arbitrary.” Perry also said he expects the tax rate to go up as the bill moves through the House and nears a final version for lawmakers to consider. The bill calls for half of the revenue to go to the state’s general fund and the other half to go to a new fund to promote major events.
An amendment approved Wednesday would allocate $1 million to the Department of Health and Human Services for gambling addiction education and treatment services.