May 30, 2023 - Politics

North Carolina lawmakers wager on sports betting, again

Illustration of a stack of hundred dollar bills underneath a football field.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

North Carolina may become the 29th state to approve sports betting outside casinos, setting professional sports teams up for a windfall in the coming years.

Why it matters: The effort to legalize sports betting in North Carolina has been a highly contentious battle that transcends party lines, centering on whether the economic benefits it brings the state outweigh the societal costs of gambling.

Driving the news: State lawmakers could send legislation on the issue to the governor's desk in coming weeks. The North Carolina Senate is set to take a final vote on the bill Thursday.

What they're saying: "​​Betting on sports in our state is occurring, but in order for us to regulate it, in order for us to tax it and provide a public benefit from those taxes, we have to authorize it first," bill sponsor Republican Sen. Tim Moffitt said in a committee hearing last week.

  • "This is just recognizing that this practice exists, has existed since the beginning of time, is increasing with access to smartphones and technology."

Flashback: Just one lawmaker killed the legislation last year, when he changed his position and voted no after hearing speeches from opponents of the bill, who argue gambling is predatory and addictive.

What's happening: Professional sports teams have ramped up the pressure on lawmakers, saying failure to legalize the practice could shrink their revenues and put them at a competitive disadvantage.

  • "Compared to a lot of teams, we're already way behind," Don Waddell, general manager for the Carolina Hurricanes, told WRAL last year after the bill failed.
  • "We can't compete with all the Canadian cities, the New Yorks, Bostons. We can't continue to fall further behind."

The big picture: That argument may especially resonate among lawmakers representing the Triangle on the heels of an exciting Canes season that drew more fans to home games than any team except Montreal.

Yes, but: The three biggest states — California, Texas and Florida — are home to nearly one-third of teams in North American sports leagues and still don't have legal sports betting markets, Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

Details: The bill, as it is currently written, would allow betting on professional, college, electronic and Olympic-style sports, and would license 10 to 12 mobile operators to accept bets from people in North Carolina, WRAL reports.

  • It would also tax operators at a rate of 18%, part of which would go to collegiate athletic departments at 13 different schools, and to gambling education and addiction treatment programs.

Zoom out: America's sports betting cash chase

Five years ago this month, the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, launching what has become a massive legal sports betting industry, Axios' Jeff Tracy reports.

Why it matters: The booming business has become inescapable to fans, littering TV broadcasts with ads and driving the conversation in sports bars across America.

State of play: Since the bill was overturned, Americans have legally wagered over $220 billion on sports, generating over $17 billion in revenue for sportsbooks and $3 billion in state and local taxes.

  • 33 states (plus Washington, D.C.) have live, legal markets, four states have legalized betting but haven't begun operations, and another six have active legislation or ballot initiatives.
  • Every major league has official betting partners, and 11 different pro stadiums have or are planning in-venue sportsbooks.

The bottom line: Five years ago, sports betting was limited largely to Las Vegas. Now, over half of American adults live in a state where they can bet legally — often from the comfort of their couch.

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