North Carolina Sports Betting Study Bill Passes Legislature

North Carolina Sports Betting Study Bill Passes Legislature

North Carolina lawmakers on Thursday approved a bill which would study sports betting and decide whether to establish a Gaming Commission, which would be a major restructuring of the state's current regulatory scheme and a potential breakthrough for greater expansion opportunities going forward.

Both the state House and Senate overwhelmingly approved versions of a Gaming Commission bill this summer. Thursday, the state House passed a bill 97-12 after some changes, which included the study of sports betting. The measure now goes to Gov. Roy Cooper’s desk for final approval. The Democratic governor has long had a contentious relationship with the Republican-controlled legislature, but it appears there will be little he could do to thwart the bill, which also passed the Senate on Wednesday 44-1.

The lopsided support for the bill means there are ample votes to override a potential veto. Barring an unforeseen (and dramatic) further change to the current legislation, the bill seems poised to come into law.

Thursday's approval of the sports betting study bill follows similar support for a measure to permit the state’s two land-based casinos to take in-person sports bets. Combined, the two bills represent the most significant gaming developments in North Carolina since the state lottery was approved in 2005 – and paves the way for even more substantial moves in the not-too-distant future.

North Carolina Lottery Commission's Role

In the short term, the bill considers restructuring oversight for the limited current array of North Carolina gambling options, most notably the lottery, but also bingo and raffles. That should have little impact on the day-to-day operation or accessibility of these offerings, but the bill cracks open the door for more dramatic options, particularly regarding North Carolina sports betting.

The bill states that North Carolina would “examine gaming activities currently prohibited, gaming activities currently authorized by the State, and the feasibility of the General Assembly authorizing new gaming activities.”

Rather than a bill to form a Gaming Commission which would "study the feasibility of authorizing sports betting and steeplechases," the new version passed Thursday puts the study directly in the hands of the North Carolina State Lottery Commission. That body will be tasked with, as the bill states, studying "the feasibility of authorizing and regulating sports betting, on-site betting at horse steeplechases, and the creation of a commission to provide oversight of gaming."

Sports betting and horse racing on federally recognized tribal lands would not fall under the purview of a Gaming Commission. Instead, the state would seek more commercial sports betting options.

This could include online and mobile sports betting offerings, which would lead to a far more lucrative potential for the market instead of the existing limitation within the confines of the state’s two brick-and-mortar casinos.

The bill instructs the Lottery Commission to assemble its findings and "any proposed legislation" to a Joint Legislative Oversight Committee by April 15, 2020.

An estimated $150 billion is wagered illegally on sports betting each year, including billions in North Carolina. Industry observers believe a legal, regulated sports betting market with online and mobile operators could garner a significant chunk of that black market and channel some of those bets into tax revenue for the state.

North Carolina Sports Betting Limited

After a lengthy delay, lawmakers approved a limited sports betting bill with sweeping bipartisan support. Supported by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which operate the two casinos in the far western portion of the state, and championed by Sen. Jim Davis, whose district encompasses the tribal lands, the bill was signed into law by Gov. Cooper on July 26.

Both bills regarding gaming expansion, including sports betting provisions, stalled for weeks or month months. The more comprehensive statewide bill was delayed in the past few weeks after the Senate did not concur with a House amendment.

Both bills made little progress until Cooper vetoed the legislature’s budget in July. That required lawmakers to renegotiate key components of the state’s budget.

That gave extra time – and a new lifeline – for the proposals.

Neither measure makes a radical difference in a state with some of the nation’s most limited gaming options, but both are new steps that could open up more growth in the not-too-distant future.

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