North Carolina Sports Betting Momentum Builds for Next Year

North Carolina Sports Betting Momentum Builds for Next Year

North Carolina hasn’t garnered many headlines in the race to legalize sports betting. Several state leaders hope to change that as soon as possible.

Multiple lawmakers as well as new Carolina Panthers owner David Tepper have publicly supported legalized sports betting in the Tar Heel State, the Charlotte Observer reports. Though North Carolina’s elected officials have traditionally been skeptical toward most forms of gambling, the changing national landscape, as well as the new revenue potential, have begun to thaw opposition.

Tepper’s purchase of the Panthers has added another vocal proponent.

Since his first days heading the NFL team earlier this summer, the billionaire hedge fund manager has touted gambling’s potential to bolster financial bottom lines in both North and South Carolina. In his introductory press conference he specifically mentioned legal sports betting as a way to bolster teacher salaries.

New Jersey recorded more than $250 million in sports betting wagers in last month alone, of which around 10 percent of the revenue was returned to the state government via taxes.

That revenue potential is a major reason why state legislators are increasingly warming to the idea of legal sports betting.

State House Majority Whip John Hardister told the Observer lawmakers need to address the topic when they reconvene for the 2019 legislative session.

“We need to (legalize) sports betting and create a framework to regulate it. I’ve talked to colleagues, and there is a willingness to address the issue. We need to study it and see what other states are doing.”

His sentiments have been echoed by leaders in both chambers as well as both parties. However, as with any legislation, there are many steps along the legislative process from “support” to ratification.

Could North Carolina Join the Sports Betting Ranks?

Seven states take legal sports bets now, and up to a dozen are positioned to do so by the end of next year. There are long odds North Carolina joins them.

Religious interests and conservative organizations have dominated North Carolina culture and politics for much of the state’s history. These groups have largely dissuaded gambling of any form in the state for generations.

North Carolina only has two casinos, both of which are Native American-operated facilities on tribal land in the rural western portion of the state. Even daily fantasy games are technically not legal, though they operate freely in a current legal grey area.

Like in the rest of the country, steadfast opposition to gambling has slowly waned among much of the public. Still, conservative leaders, who have typically been more gambling averse, control the state legislature that determines the legality of any gambling within state lines.

The current GOP leadership has proven somewhat more open toward gambling, but it publicly admits it can’t say the same for the rest of the caucus. Meanwhile, state Democrats have typically been more lenient toward gambling, but bipartisan cooperation has become increasingly difficult in Raleigh and statehouses across the country.

Complicating things further is Democrat Gov. Roy Cooper. He has had an at times contentious relationship with lawmakers in the GOP-dominated House and Senate, so it remains to be seen if lawmakers and the governor can agree to a potentially polarizing sports betting legalization framework in North Carolina.

Legalization efforts are difficult even in the most gambling-supportive states. Assuming a bill is introduced for the 2019 legislative session, the General Assembly will need to work through complex issues like regulation, taxation and implementation, among a host of other sticking points.

This has taken months to negotiate in other states, and derailed legalization entirely in others, including Illinois and New York. Pennsylvania, which technically legalized sports betting in October 2017, didn’t take its first legal wager in November of this year.

Still, even cautious support is a major development for gambling that North Carolina supporters wouldn’t have even dreamt of just several years earlier. Several other southern states are also taking baby steps toward a major gambling expansion.

Legalization Efforts Stir in the South

Sports betting legalization has boomed in the Mid-Atlantic, with Pennsylvania as well as Delaware, New Jersey and West Virginia taking bets. Several New England states are poised to take bets within the coming year, and a host of Midwestern states are seriously considering legalization efforts of their own in 2019.

Southern states are far behind their northern neighbors, but North Carolina is just the latest to at least consider sports betting.

Virginia has, not surprisingly, been among the most aggressive southern states toward gambling expansion. The Old Dominion doesn’t have a single casino or gambling facility, but pressures from just across the Mason-Dixon Line have largely dismissed opposition in the commonwealth.

Sparked by the 2017 election of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam as well as an influx of more progressive voices in the House of Delegates, elected officials have begun championing sports betting as part of larger gambling expansion opportunities after more than a century of opposition.

Virginia is set to welcome its first Native American casino in the coming years, and commercial horse racing is set to return after a multi-year hiatus. Area leaders in Bristol, located along the Tennessee border in the far southwestern portion of the commonwealth, have also championed a commercial casino for the city.

Tennessee has likewise entered the sports betting race, as Democratic legislators have filed a sports betting bill for the 2019 session. Unlike Virginia, the Volunteer State doesn’t have a groundswell of gambling support. Republicans in the GOP-controlled Tennessee General Assembly have been largely ambivalent at best, and incoming Gov. Bill Lee is an outspoken opponent.

South Carolina is in much the same situation. Democrats have pushed sports betting in Columbia to little success in the Republican-controlled legislature. GOP Gov. Henry McMaster, who earlier this month easily won re-election to a four-year term, is also against any gambling expansion.

Mississippi has legalized sports betting, Arkansas is set to do so next year and Louisiana still hopes to follow suit, but for much of the south gambling remains largely taboo. This reality exists in North Carolina, but with high-profile supporters, as well as the tantalizing potential for a new revenue stream, the Tar Heel state has at least opened its eyes to legal sports betting.

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