Budget Talks Delay NC Sports Betting Push But Lawmakers Still Hopeful

Written By Matthew Kredell on June 1, 2021
NC Sports Betting 2021

Online sports betting legislation hasn’t gotten much action in North Carolina since its filing nearly two months ago.

In fact, its only movement was a mistake. It got scheduled for a hearing in the House Commerce Committee for May 11.

That was a surprise to Rep. Jason Saine, House sponsor for H 631. It turns out a clerk put it on the agenda in an attempt to clear out bills assigned to the committee. But it wasn’t ready yet, so Saine had it put back on the shelf.

“Our plan was always to let the Senate go first on it so we know what we’re dealing with,” Saine said. “I think we’re pretty close to starting to get that bill moving in the Senate.”

Sponsors still plan to make an attempt at getting statewide sports betting legalized this year. However, budget delays will leave little time for a push.

Sports betting efforts waiting on budget

Senate sponsors Jim Perry and Paul Lowe planned to get companion bill S 688 a hearing in May. Its last action was the referral to the Senate Committee on Rules and Operations on April 8.

Perry tells PlayGeorgia that Senate delays in completing its budget proposal pushed back sports betting conversations.

The Senate does its budget first and sends it over to the House to review. That’s expected to happen soon, at which point the sports betting bill should finally get a committee hearing.

Lawmakers tired of seeing NC dollars head to Tennessee

North Carolina lawmakers notice the headlines of Tennessee bringing in big dollars through online sports betting.

In the past five months, Tennessee has raked in almost $16 million in tax revenue from online sports wagering. That’s more than all but three states.

“Nobody likes to lose out to your competitor no matter what it is,” Saine said. “We’re not hurting for revenue in North Carolina. But allowing it to go on a few short miles into Tennessee and knowing part of that revenue can be captured over here I think is a wake-up call to a lot of legislators.”

In the past, some North Carolina Republicans have held conservative views against online gambling. Seeing it going on in neighboring states could make it more acceptable to them though.

“By not legalizing statewide sports betting, we’re not preventing anyone from gambling,” Saine said. “We’re just shifting dollars. We can recoup some of those dollars and not let money go to other states or offshore sites.”

Saine cut his teeth on fantasy sports

Saine tried to get a daily fantasy sports regulation bill passed in previous years. That made him a natural fit to sponsor the sports betting bill.

While those fantasy efforts failed, Saine believes there’s been a shift in perspective on online sports betting in the legislature in recent years. Some staunch gambling expansion opponents have retired.

He said he didn’t introduce a fantasy sports regulation bill this year because there didn’t seem to be as much need for it. Daily fantasy sites operate in the state without issue. Plus, the backlash against them present when he first introduced the bill no longer exists.

“I think it’s just an issue that has matured and maybe outlasted some of the opposition,” Saine said. “We have a lot of new members who see revenue left on the table and want to talk about it. Now is the time to move this forward.”

The legislation authorizes the North Carolina State Lottery Commission to issue between 10 and 12 interactive sports wagering licenses.

In 2019, the North Carolina legislature authorized the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to offer retail sports betting at two tribal casinos. The EBCI told PlayGeorgia it supports online sports betting but would be talking to the sponsors about language.

Will June bloom for NC sports betting?

North Carolina lawmakers expect to finish the legislative session ahead of the July 4 holiday. The legislature likely will come back for a special session in September focused on redistricting. But that’s not likely to include sports wagering.

After two months, there doesn’t seem to be much momentum for mobile sports betting passage in North Carolina this session.

Gov. Roy Cooper also could be an obstacle. He took a long while to follow the legislature’s directive to update the compact with the Cherokee to include sports betting.

Saine still thinks North Carolina passes an online sports betting bill this year.

He sees support for sports wagering on both sides of the aisle in the House. If the bill gets out of the Senate, he thinks it will create momentum for final passage.

“I think at the end of the day we’ll end up with a good vote that, if not veto-proof, will be pretty close,” Saine said. “Certainly by the end of June we’ll have a resolution on whether this has wings or not in North Carolina, but I feel like we do.”

Photo by AP / Ethan Hyman
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